Speaking to Lawyers Weekly from Allens Arthur Robinson’s Brisbane office three weeks into her 12-month internship with the firm, Mongolian lawyer Manduul Altangerel said the ongoing and widespread struggle for women’s rights in Western countries is an issue that does not arise in Mongolia.
“It’s just inherent in our culture that there’s not a whole lot of difference in terms of accepting or acknowledging women. In fact, the matter is not really posed a lot. We just take it for granted. It’s just a given,” said Altangerel.
“One of the reasons is that culturally, girls are cherished. That is not to say that boys are not loved – they’re equally loved – but I think it’s a common perception in [Mongolia’s] society that the men can revert to manual labour and girls really need a good education to actually lead a good life.”
A Mongolian-educated lawyer, Altangerel completed post-graduate study in the United Kingdom and arrived in Australia three weeks ago to join Allens in its energy, resources and infrastructure practices.
On her first few visits to Mongolia, Brisbane-based partner Erin Feros, with whom Altangerel is spending her first six months at Allens, was amazed by the power and influence women have in Mongolia and the absence of the glass ceiling that has been entrenched in many western cultures for several years.
“Women are powerful in commerce over there and it’s almost a given that they’re empowered in relation to business activities,” said Feros.
“It strikes me as quite different to here and each time I went I met more and more women who held positions that I regarded as important positions … There is no glass ceiling in Mongolia for women. It’s an eternal blue sky.
“Whether or not that’s gilding the lily, I don’t know, but there is certainly a difference in the way women are accepted in commerce.”
As “a young Mongolian woman”, Altangerel suspects that the innate, equal status of women in Mongolia stems from its culture and nomadic lifestyle, as well as the lack of importance placed on the family name, compared with many other countries.
Altangerel said the power of women “stems from the nomadic lifestyle because the economic power is vested in the woman in the family, rather than the man”.
“The family name is not a very big thing as it is in other Asian countries,” she said, noting that while the country had tribes or clans before 1920, no official register of names was kept before Mongolia became a republic.
“There is no concept of the son carrying on the family name … I think that diminishes the role of the son as it is perceived in other societies.”
Pinpointing women’s suffrage in Australia and other western societies, Feros remarks how women’s rights in Mongolia are automatic.
“[In Mongolia] there was no argument or question that women would have equal voting rights,” she said.
“It is culture that dictates the acceptance of genders. It is easy in Mongolia, in my perception, because it has been culturally accepted. I think that where [Australia] is at, women are still trying to prove themselves, whereas the culture [in Mongolia] doesn’t need you to prove anything. That’s what I find really interesting.”