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Traditional Subordination

Young boy preparing himself for a horse race. Photo courtesy G. Berger.

Leading Western scholars agree that Mongolian women traditionally have had relatively higher social positions and greater autonomy than women in the Islamic societies of Inner Asia or in China and Korea. Women herded and milked sheep, and they routinely managed the household if widowed or if their husbands were absent to perform military service, corvée labor, or caravan work. Mongols valued fertility over virginity and did not share the obsessive concern with female purity found in much of Southwest, South, and East Asia. Women, however, although not shy, remained subordinate to men and were restricted to the domestic sphere. It is characteristic of Mongolian attitudes toward male and female contributions that the care of sheep - which provided Mongolians with their basic, daily sustenance - was the responsibility of women, while the care of horses - which contributed much less to subsistence but more to prestige, war, and sport - was the prerogative of men. Traditional Mongols combined firm notions of female subordination with a flexible attitude toward female participation in male-associated tasks, and women ordinarily filled in for men when no males were available for such activities as milking horses or even riding them in races. Archery contests, one of the "three manly sports" (the others are racing and wrestling), always included a female round.

The 1921 revolution began efforts to bring women into public life and into the extra-domestic labor force (see Revolutionary Transformation, 1921-24). The state's constant efforts to promote population growth also have led to a strong emphasis on women's reproductive capacities; bearing large numbers of children has been considered a civic duty. Possible contradictions between women's productive role in the economy and their reproductive role in the population have been glossed over in public rhetoric. The tension had existed, however, and frequent childbearing, state-mandated maternity leaves, as well as caring for young children probably have affected the sorts of jobs women hold and their commitment to their occupational roles.

Females in the Work Force by Sector, 1979 Census

SectorFemale Employees
as Percentage
of Sector
Females in Sector
as Percentage of
Employed Females
Material production
Trade and procurement57.88.9
Total material production42.5169.02
Nonmaterial production
Education, art, and culture62.611.5
Finance, credit, and insurance59.30.6
Housing and domestic services54.93.1
Public health and social security78.89.4
Science and scientific service41.31.4
Total nonmaterial production54.6131.03
1) Average.
2) Figures do not add to total because of rounding.
3) As published.
Source: Based on information from Mongolia, Central Statistical Board,
National Economy of the MPR for 65 Years, 1921-1986, Ulaanbaatar, 1986, 144-47.

Last Update: 2010-12-07