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International Women's Day | Women in Cashmere Mongolia

International Women's Day | Women in Cashmere Mongolia

 

The 8th March is International Women’s Day. It’s a day to celebrate womanhood no matter where or how we live. It’s also a day to remind ourselves of ongoing gender issues in today’s vast and complicated societies, as well as being a day to encourage better equality and autonomy for women all over the world. To celebrate in my own way, I want to tell you a little bit about the women who work and thrive in the cashmere sector and there’s no better place to start than in Mongolia, where women make up 90% of the country’s cashmere workforce. 

 

I think it’s really important to understand that gender in all respects is a huge topic to talk about and I would be silly to try and cram everything into just one blog post. Instead, I want to give you a brief introduction to just some of the ways that women work in herding and manufacturing, and show how they balance centurial traditions in the context of modern Mongolia.

 

Cashmere herding

Women play a vital role in cashmere herding and both men and women share the majority of the daily tasks. Unlike some other rural cultures, where gender plays a significant role in the allocation of specific jobs, rural Mongolian women’s roles have progressed over the years and they have become significant voices in the sale of fibre, selective breeding, feeding and maintaining herds, as well as domestic duties. 

 

When I met some of the ladies who herded cashmere goats I was immediately taken by their beautifully colourful traditional outfits and I wanted to take a moment to share a couple of photos I took of them at an event they attended, hosted by the Sustainable Fibre Alliance.

Two herders in traditional ceremonial dress at the Sustainable Fibre Alliance’s Herder Awards in 2019. There are 400 different styles of the hats these ladies are wearing and each style carries its own symbolism.

Herders in traditional dress (Dan-Deels - the traditional garments worn by women during springtime) posing for their photo to be taken in Ulaanbaatar - Mongolia’s capital city.

The perfect balance of modern fashion and traditional dress - rural women in the Mongolian countryside.

Cashmere processing and manufacturing

Mongolia has a vertical supply chain which means cashmere, from goat to coat, can be herded, processed, spun and made into clothing inside of Mongolia. As a female-led workforce, women are the backbone to Mongolia’s cashmere industry and can be found at every stage of the supply chain and decision making. Nothing exemplified this more than when I found myself surrounded by busy women during my research trips to manufacturing hubs in Ulaanbaatar. 

 

Urban life for women in Mongolia is somewhat similar to that of women in the UK, with traditional dress saved for special occasions and holidays. However, as my university research looked at gender in the industry I was taken by one comment from a cashmere processor. They spoke about the fluidity of gender roles in modern Mongolian society and how, especially in the cashmere sector, there were no specifics when it came to gender and the types of jobs they did.

Women dominate the processing and manufacturing sector in Mongolia’s cashmere industry. This is a photo of women who were sorting the cashmere fibres by hand before they were processed and spun into yarn. [Ulaanbaatar, 2019]


There’s so much more I could talk about but I think we would need a whole series of books to cover all the different types of roles Mongolian women have in the country’s cashmere industry. In the meantime, I want to wish everyone a very happy International Women’s Day! Why not follow #EachforEqual #IWD2020 on Instagram and Twitter to see everything that’s going on around the world this year for International Women’s Day? Or visit the official website here.

 

Find out more about what they’re up to here and let us know what you think on our Instagram.

 

Author: Charlotte Blades-Barrett

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