Gender equity in Tibetan public affairs

Staff post by Cait O’Donnell

On July, 20, 2012, the Global Gender Program hosted a talk by Dr. B. Tsering, Reagan Fascell Democracy Fellow and Member of Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile, entitled “Gender Equity in Tibetan Public Affairs: New Thoughts on a Democracy in Progress.”

Following opening remarks by Tashi Rabgey, Dr. Tsering began with an overview of the situation of Tibetan women pre-1959 and in Exile. Before 1959, Tibetan women benefited from more equal marriage policies and equality in spiritual practice. However, disadvantages included: low priority for women’s educati0n and political participation, preference towards male children since family lineage was transferred through males, and prohibition of nuns from taking the Geshe Ma (the equivalent of a Ph.D. in Buddhist philosophy) exam.

Since 1959, women have had equal franchise rights, educational opportunities, and job opportunities, but they are missing from decision-making bodies and stuck in gender-stereotypical roles.

Women’s representation in the Cabinet of the CTA (Central Tibetan Administration) has remained low, peaking at about thirty percent between 1990 and 1991. Furthermore, the number of women in administrative positions decreases as rank increases. Large gender disparities exist both in the CTA and in local leadership. Even in schools, where a majority of faculty members are women, school heads are overwhelmingly male.

Dr. Tsering outlined the history of female quotas in the Parliament of the CTA and asserted that without quotas, women are simply not voted into government. When male heads of households sit down with their families to tell them how to vote, female leaders are not chosen.

Dr. Tsering described the cycle of low female political participation as such: the Tibetan community is not used to seeing women as leaders, Tibetan women don’t see themselves as leaders, and Tibetan people don’t think of women as leaders.

She discussed major NGOs in Exile and women’s leadership in those NGOs. The only NGO with a majority of female leadership is the Tibetan Women’s Association (TWA), and it is also the only women’s organization in exile. The NGO with the second highest rate of female leadership is the Tibetan Youth Congress, with approximately 30% female leadership. According to Dr. Tsering, who served as its president from 2003 to 2009, the TWA aims to promote the social, political, and economic equality of Tibetan women in Tibet and in Exile and to address human rights abuses committed against those women. To this end, TWA has conducted surveys regarding the status of Tibetan women in Exile and hosted leadership conferences, leadership training for nuns, and gender sensitization workshops.

She then turned to policy recommendations. According to Dr. Tsering, while the CTA’s Women’s Empowerment Policy is a positive first step forward, it has significant flaws. It lacks a concrete timeframe for implementation as well as a single, independent body to mainstream gender into public programs, address implicit gender biases, and improve women’s engagement.

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