The majority of the female labour force in Mongolia is concentrated in the retail and service sectors, which are sensitive to downturns in consumer spending like those in the current economic crisis. While the government’s Covid-19 stimulus package includes relief for small businesses, none is designated specifically for women. The Asia Foundation conducted a rapid survey of a sample of businesswomen at Mongolia’s Women’s Business Center (WBC) in Ulaanbaatar, established in 2016 with support from the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA). All 30 businesswomen surveyed said they were struggling, as revenues dried up, to keep their businesses open, keep up with accruing costs, and pay employee salaries.
The women surveyed also cited the additional burden of being primary caregivers for their families while trying to keep their businesses alive. Schools and kindergartens have been closed since January, and many families have no backup plan for childcare. Confinement at home has been challenging and in some cases dangerous, as increased domestic violence has significantly affected women and children’s safety since the lockdown.
The Asia Foundation’s Mongolia office recently rolled out several strategies to equip WBC clients to endure and operate in this environment. The Foundation’s ‘Lotus Rapid Response Fund’ provided critical survival tools, including emergency cash grants, a direct hotline for women experiencing psychological or social problems, mentorships to guide businesses in the transition to online sales, and a public information partnership with the Ulaanbaatar police department to disseminate information on domestic violence.
The Rapid Response Fund stepped in with USD 500 emergency grants to 16 Mongolian women entrepreneurs.
More than 6,000 women entrepreneurs are now registered with the WBC, most of them severely affected by the pandemic. Working inside the WBC, we see firsthand and every day the unique barriers women entrepreneurs face, and that they warrant dedicated support programs during this extraordinary crisis. We have made a good start by sustaining a small group of female-led businesses, and we hope support follows for the many more entrepreneurs who fuel Mongolia’s economic engine.