Sitting before a crowd of faculty members and students in the Yale Law School on Thursday afternoon, Mongolian human rights lawyer Bayartsetseg Jigmiddash discussed how she grappled with her nation’s domestic violence issues.

“Cultural norms describe a narrative of what it means to be a man. … You have to be tough, … [which] feeds violence and violent behavior,” Jigmiddash said.

Thursday’s human rights workshop focused on gender-based violence in Mongolia, and Jigmiddash — a lawyer with over 15 years of experience in law and human rights — was the main event.

Currently the CEO of D.C.-based Veritas Consulting, Jigmiddash served as the first female secretary of state of the Mongolian Ministry of Justice from 2012 to 2016. In this position, which she held for four years, Jigmiddash managed the operations of the ministry and law enforcement agencies. Before that, she served as an independent director of a Mongolian state-owned commercial bank and the legal adviser to the president of Mongolia.

In her presentation at the Law School, Jigmiddash first discussed the overall state of gender violence in Mongolia, a low- and middle-income country of 3 million people. The lawyer explained that violence against women is one of the most pervasive human rights violations in her home nation. The World Economic Forum’s 2016 Global Gender Gap Index — which quantifies gender imbalances, focusing on health, education, economy and politics — ranked Mongolia 58 out of 144 countries in terms of gender equality. According to Jigmiddash, one-fifth of Mongolian women suffer from physical violence, one-fifth of families experience violent relationships and one-fifth of divorces are due to domestic violence.

The causes of the gender violence problem in Mongolia are numerous. According to Jigmiddash, masculinity is strongly associated with toughness and violence, noting that Google searching “Mongolian men” brings up images of physically domineering warriors and horsemen. Evidently, she said, there is a societal acceptance of violence and norms that promote the dominance of men in Mongolian society. She added that childhood abuse, depression, alcohol use and the lack of education and adequate legislation are also all part of the problem.

On the bright side, Mongolia is on the path to significantly reducing domestic violence, she noted. Jigmiddash presented several solutions and ongoing projects she has been a part of over the years. While in the Ministry of Justice, she worked on legislative initiatives, fighting for the criminalization of domestic violence.

This effort was important, she said, because “laws educate, [they] should enlighten people of what not to do.” Notable improvements have also been made in the police structure, where there are a growing number of female officers, but the county still needs to institute systemic training, a police hotline and victim protection centers. Additionally, media and internet campaigns, arts exhibitions and documentary films have started to bring this issue into the forefront of public discourse.

However, Jigmiddash acknowledged the country still faces challenges, including a lack of awareness and the fear of additional violence.

Attendees of the event were impressed by the detail of the workshop and the speaker’s knowledge of gender-based issues.

Elena Brodeala LAW ’18 praised the presentation for shedding light on an important topic. She was surprised to learn that Mongolia had only adopted domestic violence laws recently. “You kind of have the feeling that [women’s rights legislation] existed forever,” she said. “It is really fascinating to know that this is not taken for granted and that the law protects women against violence.”

Drawing similarities between cultural norms and gender relations in Mongolia and other developed nations, Brodeala said, “This is more a universal story and it is not just a story about a poor country somewhere in Asia.”

“It was really interesting to notice how gender relations are kind of the same in all countries,” said Mayra Ortiz, a postgraduate associate at the Yale School of Medicine. “I think that we have the same problems, and that was really interesting to notice.”

Human Rights Workshops are held in the Law School’s Faculty Lounge from 12:10 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. on most Thursdays in the fall semester.

Isabel Bysiewiczisabel.bysiewicz@yale.edu