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Tibetan women
Peace, development and equality

August 1995 report, prepared by the Tibetan Government-in-Exile, documents the conditions of Tibetan women inside occupied-Tibet as well as in exile. It touches upon the concerns of Tibetan women. The report, kindly released on the Internet by Nima G. Dorjee (tibet@acs.ucalgary.ca), is available on-line in two electronic formats: (a) as a plain text file (88 Kb); (b) as a set of three interlinked HTML files (prepared by Dr T.Matthew Ciolek) accessible from the URL http://www.ciolek.com/WWWVLPages/TibPages/TibetWomen-Report.html.

Est.: 21 August 1995. Last updated: 21 August 1995. The document is a part of the Tibetan Studies WWW Virtual Library.

Excecutive Summary


ONE. The status of Tibet before 1959
  1. Tibetan women: Impact of population transfer and military exploitation

TWO. The status of Tibetan women before the Chinese occupation

THREE. The status of Tibetan women under Chinese occupation
  1. China's lack of commitment to internationally-recognized standards of women's human rights
  2. Claims of the equality: Discrepancy between theory and practice
FOUR. Occupation and its impact on the political rights of Tibetan girls and women
  1. The persecution of Tibetan women for the exercise of their fundamental civil and political rights:
  2. Women prisoners of conscience
  3. Young girls as political prisoners: abuse of human rights
  4. Documented abuses of Tibetan girl prisoners
  5. Violations of Chinese law and international human rights law
  6. Violence against Tibetan women: Torture and sexual abuse of women activists and those in custody
  7. Death in custody
FIVE. Birth-control policy in Tibet: Physical violation of Tibetan women

SIX. Increasing poverty and its consequence on Tibetan women
  1. An overview of the political-economic situation in Tibet
  2. Poverty and women
  3. Tibetan women and education
  4. Education before the Chinese invasion
  5. Education in Tibet today
  6. Tibetan women and health
  7. Pregnancy and medical abuse:
  8. Medical neglect in Chinese prisons
  9. Threats to women's health due to life-threatening toxic materials, environmental hazards
  10. Tibetan women and unemployment

Part 3 of 3

Refugee women
Tibetan Women in exile

IT has been estimated by the United Nations that there are currently 123 million refugees in the world. More than eighty percent of refugees are women and children. Amnesty International, in a recently published report on the world's women, stated that: "There is no doubt that refugee women, particularly those on their own, are more vulnerable to exploitation and deprivation of rights, at every stage of flight, than are refugee men, according to Anne Howarth-Wiles, UNHCR Senior Co-ordinator for refugee women".

There are 130,000 Tibetan refugees residing in over thirty countries outside Tibet. During the year 1989-1993, about 10,626 refugees escaped from Tibet. The 1992 survey, conducted by the Planning Council of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile, Dharamsala, shows that the male/female ratio among the Tibetan exile population in India is roughly 51:49. This composition of the Tibetan population also reveals the socio-cultural status of our women.

The Tibetan refugee community in India and Nepal has done so well that it is not only able to look after itself, but also provide educational opportunities to thousands of new refugees from Tibet to whom the Chinese government has not been able to give any educational opportunity. The success of the refugee community suggests that Tibetans in Tibet could do much better for themselves if they had the freedom to live their lives they deem fit. In 1995, the United Nations' Friends have recognized the Tibetan refugees as one of the fifty exemplary communities.

ONE. Women refugees in flight: A perilous journey

THE plight of Tibetan women escaping from Tibet and their vulnerability to exploitation and violence has been documented by various independent sources. Some of these Tibetan women are fleeing Tibet with "a well-founded fear" of political persecution, others are escaping poverty and seeking better social and economic opportunities outside Tibet.

Since the occupation of Tibet by Chinese military forces, thousands of Tibetans have escaped from Tibet and continue to do so each year by travelling over high mountains, high passes and dangerous terrains. For these Tibetans, the journey to freedom is a perilous one and often ends in the loss of lives on the way. Women and children suffer the most during these difficult journeys. Besides the fear of being caught by Chinese military personnel, there is a fear for life and property. Often half way through the journey, the tired travellers find themselves short of food and have to go on for days without food. The most common complaint of all those who escape by road is frostbites. In many cases, frostbites have resulted in amputation of hands and legs thus causing scars for life. These experiences have proved very traumatic for women and children who are innocent victims of circumstances.

TWO. Economic displacement and women in exile

2.1 Employment

THE population of thirty eight Tibetan settlements in exile is 56,084 (29,686 males and 26,686 females). This represents eighty one percent of the total population in the settlements.

The unemployment (defined as not having any gainful work for over six months in a year) rate among the settlement population between the ages of sixteen and fifty is 18.5 percent. This figure, although high, corresponds to the fact that only 79.7 percent of the adult population is engaged in primary employment.

In the scattered communities, unemployment rate of 1.3 percent was recorded. This figure is clearly too low; however, it is to be expected that the unemployment rate would be less in scattered communities than in the settlements because many live in scattered communities because of better job opportunities there.

2.1.a. Primary employment

AMONG the exile population, 52.4 percent is engaged in primary employment, defined as being engaged in gainful work for more than six months of the year. Data on primary employment covering 29,368 working persons (15,524 males and 13,844 females) indicates that the ratio of the work force is 52.9 percent male and 47.1 percent female.

In exile, agriculture continues to be the primary occupation for a little less than half of the working population. This is expected as life in many settlements is organized around land cultivation. Other settlements have handicraft production as their focus, which explains the high percentage of the working population employed in carpet weaving. Carpet weaving is important as an occupation for women in particular. It is striking that the participation of women in the work force in the Tibetan refugee community is almost as high as that of men: 51.8 percent of the female population is employed as against 52.8 percent of the male population.

2.1.b Secondary employment

Data on secondary employment, covering 12,041 working persons (6352 males and 5689 females), indicate the profile of secondary occupations. Once again, female participation rate in secondary employment is almost as high as that for males. Among secondary occupations, agriculture is also the largest activity. This is partly because the lack of irrigation facilities confines agriculture to single crop cultivation.

Sweater-selling in autumn and winter seasons is the next largest activity _ just under a third of all women participate in it. This is a statistical corroboration of a well-known fact of life in the settlements.

2.1.c Affirmative action in exile

THE Tibetan Government-in-Exile has ensured the high participation rate of female workers in the government by ensuring that their rights are protected, and by adopting an affirmative action policy aimed at increasing the number of female government workers. At present Tibetan women constitute one-third of the total employees.

As provided under the Civil Service Code of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile, Tibetan women employed in the administrative field receive equal pay for equal work.

The right to leave in connection with birth is laid down in the Civil Service Code, Clause 28 of Article 6. It states that a female employee may be granted from one to three months maternity leave with full pay.

2.2 Education

THE education of Tibetan refugee children is always a major source of concern for the Tibetan Government-in-Exile. His Holiness the Dalai Lama started the first school for Tibetan refugee children at Mussoorie on March 3, 1960. The Council for Tibetan Education was established to look after educational needs of refugee children. In May 1960, His Holiness the Dalai Lama started a nursery for orphaned and semi-orphaned children in Dharamsala, India. This nursery was placed under the care of his elder sister, the late Mrs Tsering Dolma. The following year the Tibetan Homes Foundation was started in Mussoorie for older orphans.

Traditionally, on account of the existing social set up, girls in Tibet received fewer educational opportunities than boys. However, in exile universal education has been an important priority and has influenced the lives of a great number of women, opening equal opportunities to them. Tibetan women have now made unprecedented strides in assuming positions of responsibility and leadership in exile.

In the field of religious education too, women are given equal opportunities to study and obtain the highest degree if they so wish to. Facilities and opportunities for the study of religion are being made avaivable by the Department of Culture and Religion and NGOs like Tibetan Nun's Project.

2.2.a School enrollment ratio

ACCORDING to the 1993-1994 school enrollment data collected by the Department of Education, there were 22,886 students in the eighty five Tibetan schools in India, Nepal and Bhutan. Female students constituted fifty one per cent of the total number of students.

2.2.b. School graduates

BETWEEN the years 1990 and 1993, a total of 1,642 Tibetan students completed their school. For every 100 male school graduates, there were 117 female school graduates. The choice of subjects however differed between male and female students. More male students chose commerce and science, while more female students opted for arts (humanity) and vocational studies. See Table 1.
                 School graduates (1990-1993)
                             Table 1
          1990           1991           1992      1993

Subject     M    F         M     F        M    F    M    F
Arts       93  128       114   166      123  168  116  147
Commerce   13   11        16    13       10   18   34   17
Science    31   14        33    18       65   33   48   37
Vocation    4   12        27    43       10   31   19   30

          141  165       190   240      208   250  217 231

         Choice of Subject at college level (1994-1993)
                            Table 1.1

Subject Field                 Male               Female
Arts & Social Sciences         53                  44
Education                      12                  28
Legal & Business               32                  15
Science and Technology         38                  16
Vocational                      2                  14

                              137                 117

2.2.c.Further education/technical education

However, more men than women went on to pursue universityeducation. Most female students tend to enroll in education andvocational studies. A few of them choose arts and social sciences, legal and business studies and science and technology. See Table 1.1 2.2.d. Scholarships for further education During the four-year period between 1990 and 1993, the Department of Education of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile alone provided scholarships to 286 students who left or completed schooling to pursue further education. 121 (or 42%) of the total number of scholarship recipients were female.

Education has helped in changing existing gender roles as Tibetan women are now more educated and informed and are increasingly becoming more optimistic about their prospects. The participation rate of women in the public life has risen; women are now working in government service as civil servants, welfare workers, and teachers. They work as doctors, nurses, administrators and artists. Today two of the biggest educational institutions of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile are headed by two very capable women who have shown their strength and capability in various other capacities too.

2.3 Health

HEALTH care is a basic need for the overall welfare and development of a community. Recognizing the need for good health care for the Tibetan refugee community, the Tibetan Government-in-Exile has taken consistent steps towards creating curative and preventive health care services. The earliest rehabilitation projects included some health care centers which were funded by non-governmental organizations. When these organizations handed over the administration of the health centers to the respective settlements, there was a need to establish an apex body within the Tibetan Government-in-Exile to finance and manage the health centers as well as to plan a comprehensive health care system for the Tibetan refugee community. The Department of Health was thus established in 1981.

Due to financial constraints, the overall health situation of the Tibetan refugee community in India and Nepal, especially for women, is still not satisfactory. This is mainly due to the stress and tension of refugee life, economic constraints, poor nutrition, poor hygiene, poor sanitation, illiteracy among the older generation, the language barrier, and an overall low level of health awareness in the community.

According to the Department of Health, the life expectancy for both men and women is above sixty. Infant mortality rates for both male and female infants under one year of age is twenty seven deaths per thousand live births. Child mortality rates for both boys and girls aged from one to four years is twenty five deaths per thousand.

According to medical reports, fifty percent of pregnant women were found to be with haemoglobin level below 11grams/dl. As of September 1994, ninety percent of pregnant women were fully immunized against tetanus, and other infections. Sixty percent of births were attended by trained personnel/midwives in clinics and forty percent of births were attended by experienced elder women or community health workers.

Tuberculosis is a major problem. Over 33,000 cases within the Tibetan refugee community have been reported since 1959. A concerted effort with international assistance has greatly improved TB detection and treatment. Other health problems include dysentery, diarrhoea, hepatitis, skin disorders, and respiratory diseases resulting from unhygienic conditions, malnutrition, and the change of environment after the purity of the Tibetan plateau.

THREE. Power sharing and decision making

HIS Holiness the Dalai Lama has always encouraged women to participate in the administration at all level.

Today Tibetan women in exile comprise one-third of the workforce in the Tibetan Government-in-Exile. The status of Tibetan women was given a further boost in 1988, when a Tibetan woman was appointed as one of His Holiness the Dalai Lama's overseas representatives. The ultimate pointer to the full assertion of the role of women in political office came in 1990 when a Tibetan woman was elected as a Cabinet Minister.

A gradual yet distinct increase of women in administrative service has been observed over the years. It is expected that by the year 2000, the number of women employees in the administrative service will equal the number of male employees. Some of the finest institutions of education set up for refugee children are being run successfully by women. Between 1990 and 1994 two women have been elected to the highest post of Cabinet Ministers.

Although women in the past had received less representation in the Assembly of Tibetan People's Deputies, the major reforms in Article 37 of the Charter for Tibetan in Exile ensures a minimum of six female parliamentarians in the current 11th Assembly. With the kind of encouragement and opportunities that Tibetan women have received from all sectors of the Tibetan community in exile, it is expected that women will play a major role in shaping the political and socio-economic destiny of future independent Tibet.

The Eleventh Assembly (Tibetan parliament in exile) is composed of 46 members, of whom nine are women. In fact women candidates from the province of Amdo and U-Tsang received the maximum votes from their respective constituencies.

Recommendations for the Draft Platform for Action

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