When the president of the Mongolian Women’s Association reported about the outcomes of the Third Eurasian Women's Forum in October 2021, nothing of what she said was picked up by the media, who preferred instead to focus on her clothes and appearance.
“Women did not like the outfit and photos of her,” wrote the prominent daily newspaper Unuudur, in its coverage of the presentation by Oyungerel Batnasan.
The article did mention that Oyungerel “was providing information from the ground,” and pointed out that “followers and readers paid attention to her appearance instead of the information.” But it did nothing to address this problem. Not a single word on their delivery speech was mentioned in a half-page article that started from the front page.
Women politicians and their political views often remain invisible to journalists in Mongolia, explains Munkhtsetseg Tserenjamts, member of parliament. "Suppose there is an event taking place. Even though there are several women politicians, journalists mostly approach men. Many coverages do not include a single point of view from a woman's perspective," she says. "Men dominate political news," says Munkhtsetseg. "It is heart-breaking that newsrooms lack gender sense."
A recent study by the Media Council of Mongolia found that only 1 out of 10 sources in political news coverage in newspapers and online news sites are women. Moreover, sexism and stereotypes dominate political reporting on women, questioning whether they are good wives and mothers, and paying obsessive attention to their physical appearance.
For instance, in early 2021, Jargalsaikhan Bazarsad, the leader of the Mongolian Republican Party, made sexist comments towards Anujin Purev-Ochir, a parliament member, falsely accusing her of giving birth to four children from four different persons, during an interview with LiveTV.mn. Even though the misogynistic comment was not included in the final cut of the interview that was shown, it was broadcasted on LiveTV.mn's Facebook page as part of the promotional material for the interview.
The newsroom deleted this content from its page within an hour, as soon as they realized it was harming the parliament member's reputation. "But it was too late," says Shuree Sukhbaatar, the journalist who conducted the interview. "Taking down the content did not help," as it had already been shared and downloaded hundreds of thousands of times. Anujin endured the consequences and reported the case to the police as defamation. Even though it was a false statement, her two teenage daughters in particular were emotionally affected by the countless questions on whether they have different fathers, according to her Facebook post for Human Rights Day on 10 December.
The newsroom was not aware that it was spreading sexist, offensive comments towards the woman politician, as they had no guidelines or knowledge on it, Shuree explains. The training on gender-sensitive journalism provided by the Media Council of Mongolia helped her to realize things she did not see before.
"I never noticed that we quote fewer women. It was like a blind spot for us," says Shuree.
To eliminate gender bias in political news coverage, the Media Council of Mongolia works to support journalists and newsrooms to implement gender-sensitive reporting within the Promoting Gender Equality in Public Decision-Making project funded by KOICA and implemented by UNDP. "Now I try to interview more women," says Shuree, who attended two of the 23 training events for journalists. Even though many newsrooms and journalists support this initiative, sourcing more women in political news is challenging, as there is not enough women's representation in politics.
Munkhtsetseg is one of just 13 women members of parliament, making up 17 percent of the parliament seats, far below the international average of 25.5 percent and the Asian average of 20 percent. According to the Monthly Ranking of Women in National Parliaments, Mongolia ranks 134th among 187 countries.
It was not always that bad. In 1924, the Mongolian People's Republic became the first Asian country to guarantee equal rights for both men and women with the first constitution, including the right to vote and be elected. Thanks to the quota system established to close the gender gap in the political sphere, women constituted about one-quarter of the parliament.
Following the peaceful democratic revolution of 1990, Mongolia managed to build a modern democracy with a multi-party system. Even though the democratization process and the 1992 constitution reaffirmed male and female citizens' equal rights to civil and political activities, women's share of parliamentary representation declined to 3 percent in 1992. To increase further from the current level of 17 percent, much needs to be done to smooth challenges women candidates face.
Munkhtsetseg, who was elected from the ruling party Mongolian People's Party (MPP), is in charge of revising the law on political parties. She proposes to increase the quota for female candidates from the current 20 to 40 percent and include financial incentives to promote women candidates. "In the draft law, it is included to ensure gender equality. The MPP supports it, and we hope that other parties will also support it," says Munkhtsetseg.
Even if it happens, women candidates will not be able to achieve enough votes as the media in Mongolia is too biased toward male politicians. According to Globe International's TV monitoring of the 2020 parliamentary election, the Mongolian National Broadcaster provided 81 percent of its airtime to male candidates and 19 percent to women. Other private broadcasters did even worse, with the TV9 station spending 90 percent of its time on male candidates and 10 percent on female candidates.
The lack of women's representation in political news coverage is global. According to a 2020 study by the Global Media Monitoring Project, only 18 percent of government officials, politicians, ministers, and spokespersons appearing in news media are women. On the other hand, 68 percent of those who were shown as homemakers or parents were women. There has been some trend of improvement, but only very slow.
"It will take at least 67 years to close the average gender equality gap in traditional news media," highlights the report.
Journalists and newsrooms in Mongolia have started to work to break the gender bias in media. For instance, Mpress.mn has become the first news site to promote gender equality in political news coverage in its newsroom policy in Mongolia.
"Our newsroom will support women leaders until the 2024 election,” says Ariunbileg Oyunbilegt, founder and editor at the mpress.mn. “We will work to bring their voices to our readers and bring information on how more women representatives will positively impact our society and country," she says. "We will apply a gender lens to everyday content."
On the day of our meeting, Shuree spent hours in Sukhbaatar square to interview the first female general of Mongolia, G. Bolor, for Soldier's Day. "In 101 years of history of the Mongolian armed forces, this is the first time that a woman has reached the title of general. After 101 years!" says Shuree.
"I think all of us women need to support each other."
Munkhchimeg Davaasharav is a freelance journalist and media consultant based in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. She currently works as an independent consultant at the Media Council of Mongolia.
The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of FES
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