Small local organisations in Mongolia bring hope in difficult times
"How many layers of clothing are you wearing? One? No, that's not enough. You should wear your ski pants over your jeans, and change your shoes for snowboots." And there you are, on day 1 of your trip to Mongolia. I had already heard that Mongolia is very cold at the end of November, and with -22 degrees that seemed to be all true.
At Both ENDS I work on the 'Global Alliance for Green and Gender Action' (GAGGA) program, which aims to create synergy between environmental and women's movements. In this context I visited our partners OT Watch (a national environmental NGO) and MONES (a national women's fund) and spoke with various grassroots women's organisations.
Mongolia in short
The country has a population of around three million, half of which resides in the capital Ulaanbaatar. The other half is spread out through the country and mostly nomadic. To compare Mongolia to the Netherlands: the latter fits about 37 times in the former; the vastness of the country is incredible. In the South, one finds the Gobi desert, while the North and West are cold and mountainous. Large parts of the country is steppe. The northern part has most lakes and rivers, you will only find a few in the South. The soil contains large amounts of minerals and therefore mining, next to agriculture, is an important source of income.
A number of rivers have dried up due to climate change. As mining requires large amounts of water each day, rivers further away are being drained or diverted (and polluted). A complicating factor is that several parliamentarians or their family members have shares in mining companies, as a result of which the parliament may not always act decisively. Corruption is not uncommon. West of Ulaanbaatar there are three large power plants, contributing to the large amounts of smog. But so is the Ger district, which is not connected to the central energy grid. Here, people burn coal inside their houses to keep warm, which causes many health problems. People from the NGO 'Moms and Dads against Smog' told me that the amount of smog is five times as large as in Beijing.
Impact on women
Smog affects everyone living in it, but women are hit harder by it than men. The winter season lasts six long months, so heating (and therefore burning coal) is required for six months. During this period the smog is worse and the number of stillbirths and miscarriages is three times higher than in summer. In addition, it is usually the women who take leave of absence or cannot work at all, to care for sick children or the elderly: smog-related diseases such as pneumonia are not unusual.
Together with OT Watch I visited Baganuur, a small city next to a coalmine, and we spoke to a few members of the local women's alliance. They told us about the possible expansion of the mine and the construction of a power plant next to it. They are – and with good reason - afraid that the large influx of (male) labor migrants might cause all kinds of violations of women's rights. Unfortunately, previous examples have shown that there is a chance of an increase in (sexual) violence against women and prostitution. The women also worry about the lack of information about these projects that can have a major impact on their lives.
Global Alliance for Green and Gender Action
Through GAGGA we support the Mongolian women's Fund MONES, a 'small grants fund' which provides small amounts of money to local grassroots-organisations that stand up for women's rights and environmental justice. I was very impressed with the large positive impact small grants can provide to local people. For example, the 'Mongolian Women's Employment Support Federation' focuses on people living on / around one of the garbage dumps of Ulaanbaatar. These people search for food and products that can be returned / recycled. Basic needs such as water, electricity, heating are lacking, there is little access to information and many of the people living there are undocumented. Some get traumatised by what they find: it happens that stillborn fetus are put in a rubbish bag and end up on the garbage dump. Mongolian Women's Employment Support Federation informs these people about their rights, helps them with training and speaks with companies involved, in hopes that some people can be employed by them.
Small Grants, Big Impacts
When I spoke to employees of 'Moms and Dads against Smog', another small local organisation, I realised how much organisations like these get done with very few resources. Especially, considering that this organisation was only established in January 2017, after a concerned mom sent out a Facebook-message about the smog in Ulaanbaatar. This message (with a little help from MONES) led to a protest of about 2000 people on the largest square of Ulaanbaatar, when it was minus 20 degrees Celsius. The protest was widely picked up by national media and the NGO was allowed to speak during a meeting on air pollution with, among others, the prime minister and the minister of environment. The organisation is now trying to persuade the government to invest more in health care and to properly implement and monitor the national air pollution program.
Although I sometimes heard heartbreaking stories, these kind of positive stories gave me new courage and inspiration. MONES will continue to work on joint projects between women and environmental groups in 2018, knowledge and capacity building and Both ENDS will of course continue to support this in all possible ways.
Read more about this subject
GAGGA rallies the collective power of the women's rights and environmental justice movements to realize a world where women can and do access their rights to water, food security, and a clean, healthy and safe environment.
External link / 31 May 2018
It was minus 20 degrees Celsius when 2.000 women gathered at the main square of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, to voice their distress about the terrible smog in the city caused by three large power plants. Soon after, the women were invited to speak about the problem of air pollution with the minister of environment.
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News / 23 March 2020
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News / 8 March 2018
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News / 31 March 2022
We are exited about the news that Ms MacKenzie Scott decided to entrust substantial funding to a wide range of small grants funds from Both ENDS' partner networks*. These small grants funds are unique as they are set up and led by people, often activists themselves, from the country or region in which the fund is based. Most mainstream conventional funders admit they have difficulties reaching community based organisations and grassroots groups themselves. Small grants funds know better than anyone how to reach local communities, who to support and what kind of financial as well as non-financial support is most needed. Thus, they bridge a wide funding gap. Both ENDS applauds this recognition of the important role of these funds in the funding landscape. We hope this encourages more funders to join!
News / 28 September 2018
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Publication / 8 March 2018
Publication / 15 March 2023
Video / 12 September 2018
Latin American partner organizations of GAGGA launched the campaign "We, women, are water" in March 2018. This video was launched as part of this campaign, and emphasizes the role of women water defenders.
Video / 12 September 2018
The Latin American partner organizations of GAGGA launched the campaign "We, women, are water" in March 2018. This video was launched as part of this campaign, and emphasizes the importance of recognizing water as a common good.
Video / 12 September 2018
Latin American partner organizations of GAGGA launched the campaign "We, women, are water" in March 2018. This video was launched as part of this campaign, and emphasizes the role of women in the sustainable management of water in Latin America.
Publication / 10 December 2018
Publication / 4 November 2022
External link / 14 December 2021
Launched in 2016, GAGGA is a consortium led by Fondo Centroamericano de Mujeres in collaboration with Mama Cash and Both ENDS. GAGGA rallies the collective power of gender, climate and environmental justice movements around the world. Watch the video to learn more about what GAGGA does and who's involved.
Publication / 2 November 2021
Event / 14 April 2018, 11:30
On the 14th of April, Both ENDS wil host a workshop called 'Small Grants, Big Impacts' on the annual Africa day in Amsterdam. The workshop aims to demonstrate that so called 'small grants funds' effectively deliver (devopment and climate) money where it matters, to people that need it the most. Large development banks, funds, donors and governments could use small grants funds as alternative financing mechanisms to make sure their money benefits people and their environment now and it the far future.
Blog / 7 December 2017By Tamara Mohr
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Event / 23 March 2023, 13:15 - 14:30
The UN Water Conference is an important event that brings together stakeholders from around the world to discuss water and climate solutions. This year, GAGGA is organizing a side event during the conference that you won't want to miss!
On Thursday March 23rd, from 1.15 -2.30 pm, GAGGA will present their commitment to support, finance, and promote locally rooted, gender just climate and water solutions within the Water Action Agenda. This event will inspire other stakeholders to join in their commitment, while presenting inspiring examples of such solutions presented by local women from Nepal, Kenya, Paraguay, Mexico, and Nigeria.
Event / 4 November 2021, 13:15 - 14:30
With gender-responsiveness a work in progress, current climate funds are hardly accessible for women-led community based organizations. While these groups lack access to finance and decision-making, they already lead bold holistic gender-just climate solutions and initiatives worth funding support.
Follow this event live on YouTube!