Women’s Day in Mongolia

IMG_1006International Women’s Day, which as you all know and — I hope — celebrate, is March 8.


Or maybe you don’t: this map shows countries in which Women’s Day is celebrated. Red means it’s a full holiday, orange means it’s a holiday for women, and yellow means it’s recognized unofficially with gifts or, I dunno, breakfast in bed. And yes, as the map makes clear, there’s definitely a socialist connection. On the other side of the old Cold War divide, we Americans celebrate Mother’s Day in May (and Labor Day in September, far away from the International Worker’s Day that is celebrated on May 1 in many countries).

IMG_1011Anyway, in post-socialist Mongolia, Women’s Day is a big deal, and/but it has a lot in common with Mother’s Day. Restaurants have special menus, bakeries have special cakes, roses are sold on the street (and out of the back of cars), and it’s a public holiday. The picture at the top is of Sukhbaatar Square, where families went for dancing and photos, many of the women dressed in traditional Mongolian deels.


While the feminist NGO where I work focused on policy reform and sent a delegation to meet with the President on Friday, the husband’s office celebrated all week with a complex gift exchange. Men gave to women, women gave to men, and gifts had a different theme for each day: round, liquid, funny, heavy…whatever. Then there was a big, raucous party Friday night that involved vodka shots, the exchange of bigger gifts, dinner, dancing, a lot more vodka, and, likely, karaoke. (I didn’t go, and suspect I’ll never hear the full story, but he didn’t get out of bed until 4:00 the next day. We’re not as young as we used to be around here.)

Throwing the wet blanket of policy reform over the whole thing, I note here that while Mongolia is doing quite well on many of the Millennium Development Goals and other metrics of improved quality of life, it’s not doing so well on metrics related to gender issues. Domestic violence is a huge problem here, for example, and women are WAY underrepresented in government and business leadership positions. I met with some members of a young women’s NGO recently, and they said Women’s Day is all about sales promotions and having babies. They sponsored a Take Back the Night walk and street art featuring prominent Mongolian women this year instead, so good for them!

A big party is fun, but my feeling is that if you want to celebrate women in their roles as mothers, call it Mother’s Day and be done with it. If you call it Women’s Day, you should be talking about gender-based violence and political participation as well as giving out roses.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: | 9 Comments

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9 thoughts on “Women’s Day in Mongolia

  1. Thanks for the peek into the lives of women in Mongolia. If nothing else. IWD offers us an opportunity to connect our own experiences to a much larger struggle.

  2. Duffy

    Love that last sentence !!

  3. Joan and Wally MacDonald

    Your last paragraph says it all. And disgusting that the “cold war” still stultifies our thinking when we need the same “reforms.” We hardly give even lip service to IWD. Good efforts by most female Senators and Congresswomen and a few male counterparts here re several different related issues but the Tea Partiers are stymying them thus far.

  4. Yes, there’s still so much to do…

  5. Dayna

    I think you should have gone to the husband’s party. Quite the cultural experience!

  6. Yee Chuin LIM

    Hi, I chanced upon your blog while searching for more details on Mongolia as I’m heading over for my masters’ research fieldwork this coming summer. I have a few questions that I would like to ask you especially since you’re working in the field of development! I’m a student in international development and will be heading there to look more into breastfeeding culture and practices. Would prefer to email you instead of posting all my questions here. Let me know!

    Looking forward to hearing from you soon,


  7. No Women’s Day here- I am in the grey bit- but we do have 1 May as a holiday for the Workers.

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