Supporting Mongolia's Male Tourism Drivers: Beating Toxic Masculinity and Unemployment

Mongolia’s vast landscapes and rich cultural heritage have long drawn tourists from around the world. Central to the success of tourism sector is Mongolia’s male tourism drivers who navigate Mongolia’s rugged terrain ensuring safe and reliable transportation across remote areas. Their deep knowledge of the country and local customs provides an invaluable service to visitors and the tourism economy.

One of Mongolia's male tourism drivers

Our driver Ganba

What About Female Mongolian Tourism Drivers?

Although we would love for there to be more female tourism drivers in Mongolia, currently the profession is predominantly male due to various cultural, educational, economic, and practical factors. Traditionally, men, especially in Mongolia’s rural and nomadic communities, have been more inclined to develop driving and mechanical skills, which are integral to their lifestyle and livelihood. This has naturally influenced contemporary employment patterns in industries like tourism. However, it’s important to note that these trends are not static. As societal values shift and norms continue evolve, so there may be corresponding changes in the employment dynamics within Mongolia’s tourism driving sector.

The core group of Mongolian male drivers, who traditionally form the backbone of the tourism sector, often lack English language skills. However, they are renowned for their exceptional mechanical prowess, particularly in “mongolchlokh,” a local term that signifies the uniquely Mongolian knack for inventive repairs and mechanical improvisation. During the nascent stages of Mongolia’s tourism industry and up until the mid-2010s, the scarcity of vehicles suited for tourism led these drivers to purchase secondhand or even thirdhand vehicles. Demonstrating remarkable ingenuity, they would meticulously dismantle and rebuild these vehicles, equipping them to navigate Mongolia’s challenging terrains. Back in the early 2000s, the lack of paved roads meant that vehicular breakdowns were common, yet these seasoned drivers could often coax a faltering vehicle back to life with nothing more than a basic toolkit, a few spare parts, and a generous dose of mongolchlokh.

Two of Mongolia's male tourism drivers

Our drivers Turuu and Nyamaa

Toxic Masculinity And Mongolia’s Male Tourism Drivers

However, the landscape of Mongolia’s tourism sector has evolved significantly in recent years. A new generation of younger, university-educated, bilingual drivers who possess the financial means to acquire more modern and less mechanically demanding vehicles, like Landcruisers, have entered the scene. These vehicles, favoured for their minimal need for mechanical intervention due to computerised systems, have become the preferred choice for tour operations. Additionally, the emergence of international guides and influencers who conduct their own tours and the growing preference for self-driving experiences have transformed the tourism industry’s landscape in Mongolia.

These changes have had a ripple effect, leading to reduced employment opportunities for Mongolia’s traditional male tourism drivers, who previously dominated this field. The decline in demand for their services not only threatens their financial well-being but also has profound implications on their self-esteem and social status, factors deeply intertwined with traditional views of masculinity.

Because, another significant challenge confronting the older, more traditional men in Mongolia, including the older tourism drivers, is the pervasive issue of toxic masculinity. While younger generations of men are increasingly distancing themselves from such norms, older individuals, particularly those from traditional backgrounds, continue to grapple with its implications. The struggle against gender inequality is not solely a women’s issue; it encompasses the fight for equal opportunities for all, including these older Mongolian men who find themselves being left behind, marginalised in a rapidly evolving society.

Toxic masculinity in Mongolia manifests through rigid gender expectations and prevailing stereotypes that dictate how men should behave, often emphasising toughness and emotional stoicism while discouraging vulnerability and the expression of feelings. This not only affects personal well-being but also professional adaptability, as these men may resist necessary changes due to fear of appearing weak or non-conformist.

Supporting Mongolia’s Male Herders

The issue of toxic masculinity in Mongolia significantly affects not only our team of Mongolian male drivers but also the male members of the herding families with whom we’ve established long-term local community partnerships.

‘Nomadic communities practice a patriarchal system where men own and control their main wealth, i.e. livestock, while women are the primary carers of the family offspring. These norms are still largely adhered to within the domestic space. Masculinity is associated with patriarchal stereotypes that perpetuate toxic masculinities, i.e. men are the breadwinners, protectors and even the aggressors. In contrast, femininity is associated with familial care, physical and emotional vulnerability, and motherhood.’
(2022). Family and Fatherhood: A Gender-Transformative Approach.

In Mongolia, the traditional herding lifestyle, is under threat from the escalating climate emergency. The increasing frequency and severity of climate-induced adversities, such as extreme weather events and changing pasture dynamics, are placing unprecedented financial and emotional pressures on Mongolia’s herders. The cultural norms that discourage Mongolia’s men from expressing vulnerability or seeking support further compound these pressures, potentially leading to heightened stress, mental health issues, and strained relationships. The expectation to single-handedly bear any burden, such as that of climate-related impacts, without showing weakness or seeking help can exacerbate the sense of isolation and inadequacy, challenging their traditional roles and identity as providers and protectors, and underscoring the detrimental effects of toxic masculinity on Mongolia’s male herders in the face of climatic upheavals.

Through our long-term partnerships with herding families across Mongolia, we have created an informal yet significant support network, extending beyond mere financial aid.  (Although our partnering families do have supportive relatives, they are often working in difference provinces and limited by their own commitments and financial constraints.) Our collaborative relationship cultivates a sense of community and mutual assistance. Through regular interaction and shared experiences, we help to provide a more comprehensive form of support. Each visit made by our teams, along with our guests, to these herding families embodies this support, emphasising the importance of social and emotional connections. These interactions are not merely part of the journey; they’re integral to fostering a supportive network, reinforcing that every visit enhances the bond and provides mutual benefits, both for our guests and the host families. This approach underscores our recognition of the profound impact that interpersonal relationships and emotional support have on the well-being of these communities. Additionally, we provide interest-free micro-loans to assist families during tough times when they lack the immediate means to overcome financial hurdles. This support mechanism is designed to offer a helping hand without the stress of accruing interest, enabling families to focus on addressing their immediate challenges and sustaining their livelihoods.

Ma'am - Our Orkhon Waterfall herder trekking guide
Kazakh eagle hunter Mongolia
Erdenedalai herder
Mongolian drivers

A few of the herders that we work with include (clockwise, from top left) Maam in the Orkhon, Nergui in Erdenedalai, Narankhuu in the Darkhan Depression, Bambakh in Khovsgol and Bashakhan in Bayan Ulgii.

Our Sustainable Development Goals Framework

The Sustainable Development Goals, a set of 17 interconnected objectives, provide a global roadmap for constructing a more sustainable and equitable future. These goals address a multitude of challenges, spanning from poverty and inequality to climate change and environmental conservation, all the way to promoting peace and justice. To truly make a difference and leave no one behind, it is essential that we collectively strive to achieve all these goals by 2030.

Sustainable Development Goals

Within our work with our traditional Mongolian male drivers, we focus on a couple of SDGs.

Sustainable Development Goal 5: Gender Equality – Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls

Our focus: Although this goal focuses on women and girls, promoting gender equality also benefits men by challenging harmful stereotypes and norms, thus allowing men to pursue a wider range of livelihood opportunities.

Measuring Our Impact - Gender Equality - Sustainable Development Goal 5

Sustainable Development Goal 8:  Decent Work & Economic Opportunities – Promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment and decent work for all

Our focus: Promoting sustained, inclusive economic growth and ensuring decent work for all men is crucial for improving their livelihoods.

Measuring Our Impact - Decent Work and Economic Growth - Sustainable Development Goal 8

Sustainable Development Goal 10: Reduced Inequalities – Reduce inequality within and among countries

Our focus: By reducing inequalities within and among countries can help men from disadvantaged backgrounds to improve their standard of living and access better opportunities.

Sustainable Development Goal 10

What We’re Doing At Eternal Landscapes To Support Mongolia’s Male Tourism Drivers

While it might be more convenient and cost-effective for our company to employ younger, English-speaking drivers, especially since this would eliminate the need for an accompanying guide and cater to the growing demand for modern vehicles like Landcruisers, our commitment extends beyond mere efficiency and profit. Our ethos is grounded in equity including in the support of older Mongolian men, who have been the backbone of our industry but now face the risk of being marginalised.

The Eternal Landscapes team of Mongolia's male tourism drivers

Addressing toxic masculinity is an aspect of our business that not many people know about. We strive to cultivate a team environment characterised by unity and empathy, where every member feels valued and supported. Our company is dedicated to creating stable employment opportunities for our team, including our older more traditional Mongolian male drivers. By doing so, we aim to alleviate the financial and emotional stresses that come with job insecurity. As Mongolia progresses, it’s crucial that these seasoned drivers, many of whom have devoted their lives to this industry, continue to find their place in the evolving tourism landscape. This not only benefits their personal well-being but also enhances the overall quality and humanity of our tours, ultimately fostering a tourism industry that is more resilient, understanding, and empathetic.

As a traveller to Mongolia or a tourism professional choosing an industry partner, your awareness, understanding, and proactive support are vital in shaping a tourism sector that values every individual’s contributions and well-being. Together, we can build a more inclusive, empathetic, and sustainable future in Mongolian tourism.

Elsewhere on our website, you will see our plans to create Chandmana Erdene, a low-impact, community-based centre dedicated to offering an aspirational tourism training program for Mongolian women. Our goal is to make a meaningful and lasting difference in the lives of these women, empowering them towards a prosperous future. Additionally, by establishing this centre outside Ulaanbaatar, we aim to offer employment opportunities to our retired drivers who, despite reaching retirement age, continue to have financial and family responsibilities. This initiative not only supports our commitment to gender equality and education but also ensures that our valued team members can continue to contribute meaningfully while meeting their personal commitments.

Chandmana Erdene

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