Did you know? It happened this past Friday, and it’s a national holiday in Mongolia, meaning that schools are closed and government workers get the day off. How you celebrate International Women’s Day differs from region to region, even from home to home. Most schools have concerts or parties to celebrate women’s day.
My school had a concert/party. They use these words to describe it in English, but these events are usually more like variety shows: There is an MC who sings, people can dance to certain songs, there are fashion shows, talent portions, and so forth. We had a traditional Mongolian clothing fashion show, as well as a more modern one. Teachers did coordinated dances with broomsticks, threw rose petals into the crowd, and some dressed as the opposite sex. All in the name of celebrating women. It was quite the feast for the eyes.
Building up to the main concert event there was a gift exchange. You drew names out of a hat, and you were to give gifts each day to the person whose name you drew. You became their “maneta,” as it was described to me. You had to give a minimum of three gifts, and your recipient was not made aware of who you were. It was very much like a secret santa deal you would find around Christmastime in the States.
My maneta gave me some very interesting trinkets: Miniature Mongolian cultural items, lots of candy, a can of fish, a toy fish, and a pencil holder featuring a young girl holding what looks like a large stein. As a maneta myself, I gave my lucky recipient exotic foreign candies, lots of tea, a keychain made of reindeer horn, and some incense. It was fun to do, as you had to get other teachers to deliver your goods so as not to blow your cover.
The next step in this game is to purchase a gift for your maneta. On the day of the concert, it’s required, as a show of thanks for their gifts, to give you maneta a book (and accompanying sweets or trinkets, should you find those appropriate). I got my maneta Hillary Clinton’s autobiography in Mongolian. I figured it was women’s day, Hillary is a pretty famous/inspiring woman figure, so the choice was apropos. She seemed very excited to receive it. I received a picture book of Mongolian natural wonders, which was greatly appreciated. I also received a cake. A whole, full-sized cake.
I asked other volunteers if they were partaking in this type of event, to which they all said no. I suppose this is just one of those things that was unique to my school at the time.
I wonder if my school did any awareness raising during the week leading up to the holiday. Were there women’s health seminars? Discussions on gender equality or how to empower young women? Mongolian women are already very tough, and it seems that they have a much higher social status than many of their Asian counterparts, but that does not make it a female utopia by any means.