Dharamshala, India — An interactive interview with Dolma Yangchen, President of the Tibetan Women’s Association (TWA). She takes the readers down to the memory lane of TWA’s long history since its commencement on 12th March 1959 in Lhasa, Tibet.
She sheds light on the equality of Tibetan women and their contributions towards Tibetan society at large and to Tibetan-exile-communities in particular economically and politically.
Interviewer: Can you please introduce yourself and the Tibetan Women’s Association that you have led?
Interviewee: First of all, I am Dolma Yangchen. I have been the president of the Tibetan Women’s Association (TWA) for the past four years. TWA was founded in Lhasa (the capital city of Tibet) on 12th March in 1959. After coming into exile we re-established the organization in India at Dharamshala (Himachal Pradesh) on the 10th of September in 1984.
Tibet Post International (TPI): Can you please tell us about Tibetan women’s equal participation in-exile-society?
Dolma Yangchen (DY): Yes, if we talk about women’s equal participation in the Tibetan community in exile, women to a certain extent are participating in every field. Whatever it may be, be it in academics, in the business, or farming. In many other ways, women are equally participating to better the economy of society.
Interviewer: Speaking about their equal participation, can you describe more about their economical, educational, and political participation in society?
Dolma Yangchen: Talking about participation in economic, Tibetan women are very active in building the economy of the family as well as society. If a woman is working in the farming/ agriculture field, she will work side by side with her male counterparts. In business sections, wherever you go women are actively engaging, it could be a shop owned by a group of Tibetans doing business outside their own settlements as well.
Women are participating in doing business and they are making very good profit whatever business they are running. In the political field, there is high participation of women in the administrations and in the parliament as well even in NGOs (non-governmental organizations). So women are doing very well to speak about equal rights and whatever participations women take in the society enhance in building the economy. That’s how our Tibetan women are coming up.
TPI: What are the difficulties and challenges faced by Tibetan women in- exile today?
DY: You see, in exile, Tibetan women at different levels face different types of difficulties. As for the educated younger generation, they have the qualification and they compete with the opposite sex. But at the same time being a woman, she has got more responsibilities at home. When she gets a good job and she extends to take up the job. There is a problem when she has to be transferred to another location. That means she has to give up her family responsibility and take up that job if she wants.
Financially she needs the job. If she goes to another location, her old parents and young, school-going children are being neglected. Of course, her husband maybe is an earning member, what they call a bread earner. The husband will be husband. But the situation is quite different. You know, what a woman is doing from morning till night is much more challenging than what men of the houses are doing. So that is a major difficulty I could say about the women in exile as you cannot stay at home without taking up a job because of financial problems and bringing up children and their education. She has to take a job.
At the same time when this type of transferring takes place, she is torn between the two. As for the challenges they face, most of the women will try to face them. The husband may take care of the family for the time being and she may go for the posting. Every now and then she will try to come back for the family whenever she gets a leave. Others put children to the boarding schools. So women have to face more challenges than men in present situations.
TPI: Can you share with us about domestic violence against women in-exile Tibetan communities?
DY: When we talk about domestic violence against women. Maybe the present situation is better than the old system. In the olden days, man feels that he is the boss of the house. Women were mostly kept at home looking after children and things like that. For small things, men raise their hands. Now the situation is completely changed. He has to think before he does anything.
The younger, educated generation in our exile-society is more tolerant when it comes to raising hands against women. But then older people got that old habit of raising hands and voice against women on small misunderstandings. Overall, the violence against women is not that much frequent in Tibetan-exile-communities. But we cannot erase it all completely; there is the information of violence against women from here and there. To a certain extent, it is better than what it used to be.
TPI: As the largest organization of, by and for women, can you tell us how women enjoy equal rights in exile today?
DY: Now we are in the 21st century so in exile, Tibetan women are more aware and they know whether they really fall under the category of women who enjoy women's rights or not. Women in Tibetan-exile-society enjoy equal rights more or less. It all depends on how one utilizes that right when we say equal rights.
We have no restriction getting our jobs and all you have to do is sit for the exams. If you have done well then you get that job. In any other field like a business also, you could say that they have equal rights. Because we enjoy democracy that means women got full equal rights in society if she uses her opportunity well. If she sits back then she can’t possibly talk about rights.
TPI: Is there any other important issue related to the topic you want to tell us?
DY: Yes, right now, we talked about women’s equal rights along with men. But we have establishments everywhere in different parts of the world. Although women are mostly treated equally but sometimes, when there any meeting or any sort of big gathering, the older generation you see if a woman brings or opens up her opinion on some matters then men feel that oh she is woman whatever she says there is no value in it! They don’t intend to listen properly to her. So that means there are no equal rights as they don’t value her views.
Even though we talk about equality of women’s rights but which means they are not respecting women’s rights. I observed during those meetings women try to raise some views. There are women who are not used to facing public and talk but even at meetings in a village they try to raise some points but men in the meeting don’t pay attention thinking that oh it’s a woman’s voice so that’s not important. When I observed such things, I do feel there should be some changes. You should listen to whether you accept her views or not and it is their duty to at least listen to what she has to say. For these things I think, there should be more changes.