Zanaa Jurmed – Mongolia

Linked with CEDAW.

She is one of the 1000 women proposed for the Nobel Peace Price 2005.

She says: “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”.

She says also: “It is useless to speak of freedom and emancipation while education lags behind”.

Her motto, often expressed in the press, is: “Women’s Participation in Politics at the decision-making level”.

Zanaa Jurmed - Mongolia redim 70p.jpg

Zanaa Jurmed – Mongolia

She works for the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women CEDAW (named on

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. An extremely confident woman, Zanaa inspires confidence in others. She looks you straight in the eye when she talks to you and makes you feel that she has already sensed your truth and understood your problems.

Such features might be characteristic of charismatic leaders, but in Zanaa’s case people say this may have something to do with her being a member of the national archery team for many years!

Professor Zanaa Jurmed surprised her colleagues at the Foreign Language University, where she had taught Russian language for 18 years, when she joined the Mongolian Democratic Union (MDU) without hesitation and began to provide meeting places for people in the pro-democracy movement.

The ruling Communist Party particularly feared any involvement of students in those mass demonstrations.

Thousands of peaceful demonstrators in the cold March days of 1990 were surprised to see this elegant woman serving hot water with glucose and offering face masks to the political hunger-strikers occupying the Central Square of the capital.

There were moments when clashes seemed imminent between the military at the ready in the square and peaceful rallyists demanding the resignation of the Politburo and constitutional changes for democratization. The Dean of Zanaa’s faculty wanted to fire her. Her anxious father once asked her: “What would happen to you if the armed forces are ordered to crack down on the demonstrators and hunger-strikers”? She responded: “Father, it is better to die than to live under such a regime”!

From the time she was a child, Zanaa had protested against any form of physical violence – especially as she had been at the receiving end of constant beatings by her adoptive father. Later in life she returned to her natural father, it was he who was so concerned for her safety in pro-democracy demonstrations.

All of this was only the beginning of many collisions Zanaa has experienced in her struggle for justice against corruption and violation of human rights. Just recently Zanaa, Director of CEDAW Watch Network Center, won a long-term lawsuit against those who had fraudulently pocketed a large sum of the project grant aid from abroad to the women’s NGOs in Mongolia. She regrets especially the fact that this fraud case delayed operations of some NGOs for two years.

Zanaa’s chief concern is to promote education for women in general, and on gender issues in particular. Not surprisingly, a week after she attended the Jakarta Regional Conference on Gender Equality in 1996, Zanaa established the CEDAW Club. The organization now concentrates on training men and women about the problems of gender equality, and it issues comprehensive reports and handbooks on the subject.

A major concern for Zanaa, as the incumbent head of the Council of the Mongolian Women’s NGOs Association, is to increase the women’s share of the seats in the Mongolian Parliament.
Whenever Zanaa addresses the public she explains why she is so persistent about this matter.The effort is slow, but is bearing fruit: Mongolian cabinets now tend to have at least one female minister.

In the 1996-2000 Parliament seven seats out of 76 belonged to women, compared with three seats earlier. Promoting women candidates and leading pre-election campaigning for them, Zanaa relies upon the broader-than-ever grassroot sector which is determined to promote gender equality.

Thanks to Zanaa’s own contribution to a large extent, such a basis does exist and grow. She is a founder of more than a dozen women’s and human rights NGOs, including the influential Liberal Women’s Brain Pool (LEOS).

As a creative-minded intellectual and a seasoned expert in open society problems, she also assists other NGOs in elaborating their strategic documents. Her participation in any social initiative is deemed to be essential for assuring publicity among communities; Zanaa’s leadership reputation is beyond doubt in the country.

Zanaa is always discerning in dealing with human rights problems, wherever and whenever they emerge, and she is always brave enough to take action. Thousands of Mongolian migrant workers in the Republic of Korea pose a subtle problem to all those involved. Zanaa went out on the streets to draw public attention to the toughening tendency of the Korean government toward the Mongolian contingent of migrant workers.

She single-handedly collected signatures on a cold winter day and succeeded in handing over a statement signed by a thousand passers-by to the Mongolian Government and the Korean Embassy. To take a personal risk in controversial situations is part of Zanaa’s personality.

Although she is radical in principle and sees the importance of defending justice, the ultimate principles of radicalism and politics are completely alien to her philosophy. In her diversified social functions she pursues activism and optimism to encourage people more than anything else.

The International Civil Society Forum held in Mongolia in 2003 owes its success entirely to Zanaa’s coordinating efforts and leadership in the National Core Group. As Zanaa points out, the documents and proceedings of the ICSF-2003 published in a volume will be a vital source book for future developments in Mongolia for a long period ahead. The Forum marked a turning point for Zanaa personally and for civil society groups in Mongolia.

She and her colleagues were engaged in the preparative work for the Forum in Qatar, a significant event in supporting civil society developments in the Middle East. Zanaa holds major positions in a number of international organizations.

Zanaa’s energetic, highly fruitful public activities have won her nationwide as well as regional and international recognition. On Human Rights Day, 2004, she was awarded the Polar Star order by the President of Mongolia. Women in Mongolia usually receive awards for professional or labor accomplishments, but not for achievements in the social sphere. On this occasion she received felicitations from all over the world. One of countless messages from abroad reads: “What a wonderful and well deserved honor!

You have worked so hard and you really deserve the recognition you have now received from your country’s President”.

She is far from being satisfied with what has already been done in the realm of creating civil society. In an interview she said: “The 1990 UN Recommendations to the government of Mongolia consist of 44 major principles on human rights. Yet, by now only one of them has been accomplished in legal practice, namely that the Law against Family Violence has been adopted by the parliament”.

In frequent meetings and discussions with political and state leaders, Zanaa is a demanding representative of society who puts pressure on those in power to keep their promises. Despite her innate straightforwardness, she is known as an excellent and effective negotiator with authorities and formal institutions.

Zanaa is now working toward a doctorate in humanities. As she explained in an interview: “Why have I distanced myself from immediate politics and instead opted for social representation? Of course, nothing is beyond politics; civil society activities are there to ensure politics remains clean and sound, and it is more important a sphere than politics as such”.

The pro-democracy movement in Mongolia in 1990 involved thousands of women, and since then women’s participation in the democratization process has been represented mainly by the leadership role of Zanaa Jurmed. Aspects of building a civil society in the former socialist country are manfold, and Zanaa’s tireless activities are recognized as a crucial contribution to the development of civil society in Mongolia. (1000PeaceWomen).

Zanaa Jurmed, director of the National CEDAW Watch Network Center, and chair of the Mongolian Women’s NGO Coalition, both Global Fund Grantees, was awarded the Order of the Red Star. (full text).

CIVICUS Mongolia partner wins national award for contributions to development of civil society movement.




CIVICUS Civil Society Index, National Coordinating Organisations, June 2005;

The National Convention on the Elimination of all Kinds of Discrimination Against Women Watch Network Center;

Central and Eastern European women’s network for sexual and reproductive health and rights ASTRA;

List of Signatories submitted in ratification of the Declaration of the NGO Caucus on Women and Media.

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