Overcoming the challenges of becoming a woman leader in Mongolia
Celebrating women in leadership: A story of a woman who has come a long way to become a governor
Delger never imagined that she would find herself weeping for something she had always wanted to achieve. But having surmounted that challenge and being accepted and celebrated by her colleagues and community, moved her to tears.
Born and raised in Gurvanbulag ‘soum’ – sub-provincial administrative unit – of Bulgan ‘aimag’ - province, she had just been appointed as Deputy Governor of her soum.
That was 13 years ago.
Much has changed since then, she is a seasoned leader and politician, what has not wavered was her determination to improve the lives of the communities she serves.
Now, she is the first female governor of her soum and one of the only two female soum governors in Bulgan aimag. She is also a representative of her soum’s Citizen’s Representative ‘Hural’ – a local assembly – and one of only five female members of the Bulgan aimag’s Citizen’s Representative Hural.
She is still among the few. So far, 17 per cent of Mongolia’s Parliament, the highest legislative body, are female, which is well below the global average of 24 per cent. Furthermore, women comprise only about 27 per cent of the local khurals. Despite being well educated and equally capable, women still struggle to be included in decision-making roles, at all levels.
Delger recalls her early days on the job. She says she was surrounded mostly by male colleagues who were much older than her, and it was highly challenging to be taken seriously, despite her qualifications.
“Though I was the deputy governor, my colleagues wouldn’t come into my office to discuss work,” she says. “So, I went into their offices to get my job done, in the beginning.”
Traditional and cultural norms, that perceive women in certain roles at home and at work, still serve a key barrier, to a lack of strong representation in leadership positions. According to 2019 indicators from Mongolia’s National Statistics Office, women spend 2.6 times more time per day in unpaid domestic work than men.
“One of the main things that helped me during the difficult times was the discipline that my parents instilled in me. They would say, if you do something, make sure you see it through no matter what. It started with simple things such as making sure I finish my dinner and put the plates away” says Delger. She says, that upbringing, to get things done and to persevere, has helped her succeed in her career.
“Women need to work much harder than men if they want to be successful in politics and leadership roles,” says Delger, adding that she has witnessed other women facing the difficult challenge of choosing between their career or family. She says, “women have a lot on their plates including caring for their children, doing domestic, unpaid housework, and also attending social activities,’ which leaves little time to focus on their careers and professional development.
Luckily, she didn’t have to do that as her husband has been supportive and understands the importance of equally sharing tasks and responsibilities, in the family. Delger believes that a strong family foundation is important for success.
Currently, she is studying to earn her Master’s in Public Administration degree and she emphasized the importance of continuous learning for leaders.
“I believe that having strong skills and knowledge are critical for success, which is why I make sure to always improve myself, by learning new things.” That is why she attended the leadership training conducted by UNDP’s Strengthening Representative Bodies in Mongolia project, co-implemented by the Parliament Secretariat and funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. During those sessions, she learned the importance of taking different approaches, advancing new ideas, and ways to develop her soum.
Looking forward, Delger has ambitious plans for her soum, such as further developing its animal husbandry sector – relied on by 70 per cent of its residents – by focusing on proper pasture management and higher quality breeding. She also sees potential for developing tourism in her soum, as it is known to be the birthplace of the first and only Mongolian astronaut who went into space. Moreover, she wants to establish standard pools, gyms, English courses, and a hospital that provides quality, comfortable services, and a hospitable environment, for her soum’s residents.
When asked about the most important traits of a good leader, she said: “to be a good and humble person who doesn’t discriminate against anyone.” Delger believes that leaders need to remain humble and open-minded.
“It is very important to provide training that will further benefit female khural representatives with the right tools, empowering them to advance in their careers, to attain high-level decision-making roles. This will help increase the number of women in decision making roles, which is one the major issues in Mongolia,” says UNDP’s Resident Representative Elaine Conkievich.
When Delger entered politics in 2008, only 4 of the 21 Citizen’s Hural Representatives in her soum were female, today there are nine. However, there are few women, at the decision-making level, at an aimag and country level. International donor organizations and development partners are supporting the Government of Mongolia to make substantial progress in this direction; however, challenges persist for women who want to advance in their career, in Mongolia.