The weather forecast for today, this lovely fifth of May, is a balmy -1 degrees Celsius and the skies are opening up to deliver some springtime snow showers! Tomorrow, it will be cold again, but next week the temperature will steadily rise up to 18 degrees (whhhat?). One couldn’t tell from the snow-peaked mountains behind my house. The weather here is incredibly temperamental and makes at least a 4 degree jump each day, so forget going outside without checking the weather forecast. Makes you really appreciate a good day…
Anyway, I have been sick from the exhaustion (but fun exhaustion!) that seized me last week and unable to leave the house, so the snow hasn’t affected me terribly. Not leaving the house really bites when you have lots of cool stuff to do, but I guess staying in and watching multiple 3-hour long movies about American suffragists (now I am an expert on Ida B. Wells, Alice Paul, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, wow are those some inspiring women) isn’t the worst thing ever.
I promised a few weeks ago to write about one of the women’s groups I have been working with here and I finally have the time to do such (although I am writing this by candlelight due to lack of electricity, thank god for computers with 8 hours of battery life). Last week, I had the good fortune to be the official photographer at a showing of the Vagina Monologues (a theater piece by Eve Ensler on female sexuality), put on by a group of women that call themselves “Young Women for Change” or directly translated from Mongolian, “Young Women’s Club.”
Since arriving, I have been talking to all manners of women, and have time and again asked about the concept of feminism. I am routinely shocked, yet my curiosity is piqued, by the fact that the majority of women have no clue what feminism is. Even women who participate in NGOs or have had Western exposure have only first heard this term recently, and I have only encountered a few women who would openly call themselves ‘feminist.’
Although, as an Anthropologist and a gender one at that, I am immensely aware of the ethnocentric potentials of feminism. Feminism IS a Western concept, with both its second and third wave being started in the same country, the United States. However, third wave feminism is by definition a globalization-centered concept that admits that women are not the same everywhere –there is no ‘THE woman”- and that different women experience different levels of discrimination, aka a white middle class American woman does not face the same trails a woman in Sudan does.
Thus, the unfamiliarity with the term ‘feminism’ amongst Mongolian women is not something that should really surprise me. Yet, for a country where the majority of women are better educated than men AND are partially discriminated against due to this rise in education, I feel women hunger for a term that gives credence to their experiences.
Thus, it pleasantly surprised, but did not shock me, when I heard the story behind “Young Women for Change.” In this dearth of a female Mongolian solidarity movement, a few women decided that they needed to start a club to empower young Mongolian women.
So, a few months ago, my friend Zola and others decided to post a Facebook web page with a call for young women who wanted to get together, discuss women’s issues, read, and generally empower each other. As the news spread around, young women found their way to this Facebook page, and the online club membership boomed. Now within 6 months of idea-conception, over 150 young Mongolian women from all sorts of professional backgrounds are members of Young Women for Change.
Since the formation of this web page a few months ago, about 30 to 40 women have regularly been meeting in one of the local NGOs each week, forming discussion nights, organizing protests, and planning projects. And recently they decided, in line with the international V-day movement -a movement to earn money for NGOs working with female victims of domestic abuse and violence- to translate, become actors, and produce the Vagina Monologues in two languages. So, these girls with a variety of professional backgrounds, from NGO work to law students to dentists, sat down with next to no theater experience, and started translating, organizing, and planning the first showing in Mongolia.
Talk about DIY (do.it.yourself.) for you, and for those who don’t know what diy is, it is the ability to enact plans, projects, and movements in a self-relient, non-commercial way solely through personal drive and engagement (phew!)! In other words, the girls had an idea, and without doubting their ability, they did it themselves!
They not only put together an amazing show in two languages, it was a hit in the Mongolian press and they amassed a lot of money for the local Center Against Domestic Violence. It was a smashing success.
So, a few weeks ago, the LGBT Centre (a Mongolian NGO) asked the girls if they could put on the show again, this time including the optional transgender monologue in the original Vagina Monologues script. And the girls agreed, but the theater they had originally performed in, rejected the idea out of fear of becoming ‘the gay theater’ in Mongolia. So, the girls scrambled for another venue, and within two weeks they organized, planned, and practiced an additionally showing of the Vagina Monologues; this time with the transgender scene. It was the first showing of any transgender play or scene in Mongolia… ever.
So, what is my role in all this? Nothing really, except that I got to document all of it!!! So, for a few days I got to let my inner photography goddess run wild and ran back and forth for hours taking pictures of the women (and men!). And it was SO MUCH FUN!
So, posted are some pictures of the event. And next week, I get to hold a presentation for the women on the Western feminist movement, since many women in the club would call themselves feminist, yet have not really been exposed to the history of feminism. I am so glad I get to spread this information!!!
And next on the agenda for the girls: reading and translating introductory feminist texts into Mongolian. The only feminist text available in Mongolian at the moment is Simone de Beauvoir’s “The Second Sex.” It is dense and anyone who has read parts of it can attest to its difficulty; not the easiest “Introduction to the Women’s Movement” text. Plus, it was probably translated from the first English translation, which was done by a Zoologist (really???). Maybe that’s why no one has heard of feminism in Mongolia…
Until next time! ❤