Mongolia: Zanaa Jurmed

How do we cope with poverty? Political insanity leads to all sorts of economical diversions that affect the social environment and people’s attitudes. There is only one way out of this: democracy.

— Zanaa Jurmed

Zanaa Jurmed, born 1950, an eminent political leader and civil society advocate, was a key activist of the pro-democracy movement and her name is synonymous with its success in the 1990s. She is a spokesperson on women’s and human rights issues in the country and abroad. Her commitment to democratic ideals and her peacemaking skills won her the first headship of the capital city organisation of the Mongolian Democratic Party. Since 1992 Zanaa has played a leadership role in many NGOs.

Zanaa Jurmed surprised her colleagues at the Foreign Language University, when she joined the Mongolian Democratic Union and began to provide venues for meetings for young people in the pro-democracy movement. Thousands of demonstrators in the cold March days of 1990 were surprised to see an elegant woman serving hot drinks and offering face masks to the hunger-strikers occupying the central square of the capital. Her demands for the resignation of the Politburo, for a multiparty system and pluralistic society, often led to clashes with the army. Her father once asked her, “What will happen to you if the army is ordered to crack down on protestors?” She said, “I would rather die than live under such a regime!” Zanaa has been in the forefront of building a modern civil society in Mongolia for the past 15 years; her distinguished leadership recently won her the Order of the Polar Star by decree of the president. In the first democratic election in 1992, Zanaa won a seat in the Capital City Khural of citizen’s Representatives. Standing for democratic forces at that crucial moment in the history of the nation, she used the people’s mandate for starting reforms that have had a positive impact on today’s Mongolia. Over time, Zanaa’s focus shifted from politics to the social sphere. Since 1992 Zanaa has initiated and founded a number of women and human rights NGOs now operating nationwide. After the Jakarta Regional Conference on Gender Equality in 1996, Zanaa established the National Watch Network Center of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (Cedaw), widely recognized as the intellectual stronghold of women’s NGOs in Mongolia. Zanaa was national coordinator of the International Civil Society Forum-2003 held in Ulaanbaatar, a major turning point in the globalizing of her individual experience and in Mongolian civil society.

Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (Cedaw)