BY EMAIL, 12 July 2013
There are many aspects of our Tibetan culture worth holding onto tenaciously. Whether we are facing oppression within Tibet or pressures to adapt to host countries in exile, holding onto core components of Tibetan culture including our language and religious practices are essential to maintaining our identity. Our sense of compassion and endurance under hardships are not only key to our cultural identity, they set a positive example for the whole world to learn from. But we’re not perfect. Some of the behaviours common in the Tibetan community are unhealthy and outdated. Recognizing the unhealthy behaviours and changing them doesn’t threaten our identity — it helps our living culture grow and thrive.
Unequal treatment of women is one area that needs improvement. Too frequently, Tibetan women are treated like hired servants, harassed for sex, and forced to endure physical violence from the very people closest to them. These behaviours are wrong and need to stop.
The expectation for women to perform chores like cooking and cleaning while men relax and wonder when dinner will be ready shows how different the status is between genders. The typical scene looks like an Indian rajkumar being waited on by his attendants. Just like the rajkumar‘s attendants know they are socially inferior to the prince, Tibetan women are made to understand that they are inferior to men.
Sexual harassment and physical violence demonstrate how serious the problem can become. Knowing that Tibetan women are taught to be shy, many men mistakenly think that they need to be pushy to get a woman’s attention. Some men get totally the wrong idea, believing that women are there for their enjoyment, leading them to be sexually demanding, or to mistake ordinary interactions with women as invitations for romance. If the woman rejects them, they take revenge by spreading false rumours. Everyone is shocked to hear the rumours about women, but the men spreading them see nothing wrong if they are having affairs or cheating on a girlfriend.
Although physical violence against women isn’t unique to the Tibetan community, we have a problem of ignoring it when it happens. Violence towards women within a family or a relationship is seen as a private matter. If a women is not strong enough to defend herself, people around her in a position to raise their hands to protect her rarely do as much as raise their voices in her defence.
Being treated unequally makes women feel that men in the community and in their lives don’t care about their feelings. When women are treated like servants, that behaviour makes women feel used instead of loved. When women are harassed for sex, that behaviour makes women feel exploited instead of respected. When women are controlled with violence, that behaviour causes pain and denies their independence instead of protecting them and allowing them freedom.
Women aren’t the only ones who suffer because of unequal treatment. Unequal treatment of women affects anyone in the community with a mother or sister, wife, girlfriend, female friend, or daughter. Not feeling loved, respected, and independent interferes with the relationships women have with the men they are in contact with. I’d like men to imagine how they would feel in a woman’s position, contemplating the resentment, frustration, and distrust they might feel just as many women do. With such negative emotions caused by unequal treatment standing in the way of productive relationships, families accept tension as part of life and the community as a whole is unable to stand united.
Children are affected by the treatment of women caring for them, and live with the consequences of adults’ behaviours. Husbands who don’t help raise their kids have kids who miss out on attention and don’t have the benefit of their father as a role model. Boyfriends who walk away from pregnant girlfriends have kids who grow up without a father at all.
The solution is as simple as it is urgent: Men need to treat women the same way they would like to be treated. There is no need to wait. Any individual man can make the decision right now to begin considering the woman’s point of view before taking actions that affect women’s lives. Men who do so will help women, help themselves, and make our community better.
About the author
Kunsang Dolma is the author of her recent memoir, A Hundred Thousand White Stones: An Ordinary Tibetan's Extraordinary Journey. More at 100kWhiteWtones.wordpress.com
Cultures that denigrate and devalue cohorts of their populations – ethnic/religious minorities, LGBT communities, women, or others – reap a bitter harvest and forfeit the fullness of their society’s heritage of goodwill and the wealth of their ciltizens’ collective talent and spiritual beauty.