Dharamsala: Hundreds of women marched from McLeod Ganj to Lower Dharamsala today, to mark the 53rd Anniversary of National Tibetan Women's Uprising Day. Many businesses in McLeod Ganj were closed and the town was markedly quieter without many of its female citizens, with many Tibetan nuns, schoolgirls and women choosing to show their support for their countrywomen by taking part in the march from Tsuglagkhang to Lower Dharamsala.
The Twelfth of March commemorates the women's uprising of 1959 in Lhasa, which followed the Tenth of March uprising against Chinese forces. The march today is especially poignant, following a spate of self-immolations from within Tibet during the past year - most notably those of a young woman and a single mother of four.
The Tibetan Women's Association issued a statement commemorating the uprising, praising the strength of the Free Tibet movement, and expressing concern for those inside Tibet:
"We remain gravely worried about the well-being of 850 known Tibetan political prisoners languishing in Chinese prisons, and fear for those living under the constant threat of arbitrary detentions, disappearances, and the ruthless military control of Tibetan areas. The undeniable presence of armed security confirms China's open declaration of 'war' against Tibet and has created a cauldron of tensions amongst the international community ... TWA pronounces Chinese President Hu Jintao to be a failed leader and condemns his brutal policies of bloodshed and provocation in Tibet" (TWA).
Kirti Dolka Lhamo, president of the Tibetan Womens' Association, issued a speech next to the Tsuglagkhang, condemning the suffering in Tibet and outlining the productivity of the Association in the past.
On March, 12, 1959 two days after the National Uprising Day, thousands of women gathered in front of the Potala Palace in Lhasa. This demonstration - Women's uprising day - was the spark that initiated the Tibetan women's movement for independence.
Enormous processions were carried out in the streets of Lhasa and independence memoranda was handed to the Chinese authorities, coinciding with appeals to Consulates in neighboring India, Nepal and Bhutan in Lhasa. Chinese authorities responded by resorting to brute force and arrested the leaders of the movement and many other innocent women. They were sentenced to indefinite prison terms, and many of them were mercilessly beaten to death. However, these repressive measures did not dampen the women's courage.
After forty-years of occupation, Tibetan women inside Tibet continue to play a pivotal role in the struggle against China's illegal occupation of their country. Consequently, they suffer particular brutality at the hands of the Chinese authorities. Like their male counterparts, Tibetan women continue to be imprisoned for participating in peaceful non-violent demonstrations. They are also detained, sentenced and jailed, in many cases without any formal trial, for activities such as displaying the Tibetan national flag, distributing independence posters and leaflets or communicating news and true information.
Today, one of TWA's main objectives is to promote awareness at the local and international level of human rights abuses in Tibet, particularly those targeted at women, such as gender-specific torture and forced sterilization and abortions. The TWA also emphasizes the preservation of Tibetan traditions in exile, by organizing activities promoting Tibetan culture and religion. TWA has also initiated projects to address the various social welfare, educational and environmental needs of the exile community.
TWA's expansion is now represented by 56 regional chapters and 16,000 members across the globe. They seek to empower Tibetan women in exile on social, political, economic, cultural and educational grounds. Today - the 53rd anniversary on Tibetan National Women's Uprising Day - they also announced a fellowship for a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery.
"I think a great contribution has been made by women both inside and outside of Tibet. Outside Tibet, Tibetan women are participating more forcefully and effectively at various levels in many fields, and also the women's associations are very active in social activities especially education. The Tibetan Women's Association has also made a great contribution to the freedom struggle. Inside Tibet, in recent years, nuns have been leading most of the demonstrations in Tibet. Even in the past there were many brave women struggling peacefully for freedom. On the 12th of March, 1959, a big women's demonstration took place in Lhasa and many heroic activities happened. So there has been a great contribution made".
- His Holiness The Dalai Lama, as stated in an interview to TWA on July 20, 1995, Dharamsala H.P. India