BY EMAIL, 17 November 2013
A single person pressed by serious problems doesn’t give up taking out the trash and doing dishes, and we would all laugh if someone wasn’t even willing to change their dirty underwear until bigger problems were resolved. But when it comes to Tibetan politics and culture, we’ve become so focused on our big problem that we’ve forgotten to take care of the smaller ones too, leaving them to linger like leftover thukpa getting stinky in the sink. But we don’t have to put down our big problem to take up the smaller issues. While political change makes its slow progress, it doesn’t make any more sense to wait for freedom before addressing social problems than it would to wait for the barley harvest to start pulling weeds.
Few — if any — other cultures would accept being frozen in 1959; the world has evolved since then, and we need to evolve with it. In those days, the West was very much like we are now. They changed, and we can too. We don’t need to copy the West, but we do need to struggle with the same social issues that they had to work through.
The social issue that is most important to me personally is women’s equality, because of my experiences with violence and sexual abuse. It is frustrating that women’s rights are often dismissed as the kind of insignificant complaints small children come up with. Although the specific rights that women have called for may seem small, such as the right to dress and wear our hair as we’d like without judgement just as men do, the mentality that supports inequality is not trivial.
The mentality that makes it okay for men to control even the smallest aspect of women’s lives is a mentality that makes it okay for men to control women period. Convinced of their right to control women, it’s no wonder some men don’t see the problem with beating their wives or forcing sex on them. Maybe physical and sexual abuse isn’t a serious problem in the thoughts of men who have never been victims; maybe they think a problem isn’t serious until it affects them — but this is exactly the kind of problem we need to address right now. Abuse is the type of trash that doesn’t belong in our culture, it would be better to be picked up, taken out, and burned somewhere.
Silence gives permission
I recently posted an interview on my website with a truly amazing Tibetan woman, highlighting the triumph of her love for her children through escape from a dangerous abusive situation and many challenges in life. Sadly, other Tibetans convinced her that her true story hurt the community’s reputation and I regretfully took it down. This is wrong. We need to be bringing our problems into the open so we can start a conversation about solutions, not hiding them.
Abuse of women is an issue we all have influence over, by something as simple as breaking our silence about what we see and hear. Silence gives permission. When we are silent about abuse by friends or family, we are telling them that abuse is acceptable. Silence is as much of a statement as speaking up. Once we are aware of a problem, there is no more staying out of it: We must speak against it, or else we support it by doing nothing. By challenging these behaviours, we can change the mentality that makes abuse and inequality acceptable.
I’m not saying that we stop fighting for freedom. Like so many other refugees, I too risked my life crossing mountains to escape Chinese oppression, and there is nothing I wish for more than to see freedom in time to return while my parents still live. I no longer look forward to Losar because the pain of being separated from my home and family is almost unbearable, but I don’t want to become paralyzed with waiting. For more than fifty years now we’ve been waiting for freedom and still we wait, refusing to pick up our trash in the meantime. Let’s make today the day we start cleaning, leaving no trash behind in our homes, no weeds behind in our fields — and when freedom comes we will be ready for it.
About the author
Kunsang Dolma is the author of A Hundred Thousand White Stones: An Ordinary Tibetan's Extraordinary Journey, from Wisdom Publications. She maintains a website about Tibetan women's issues at Yimbe.net. She is now on Twitter as @mangradolma