Formulation, Backlash and Continuing Commotion of Tibetan Women’s Day

By Tenzin Sangmo | March 12, 2018

Now you may wonder why Tibetan Women’s Day, a seemingly innocuous, if not favourable day, would be a contentious issue?

As much as empowerment of Tibetan women is the need of the hour, Tibetan women are definitely not willing to trade it for anything that risks erasing the historical contribution of ordinary Tibetan women. The timing, formulation and continued observation of the Tibetan Women’s Day, despite the large-scale opposition, points to the arbitrary functioning of the current Tibetan political leader Sikyong Dr Lobsang Sangay led 15th Cabinet of the Central Tibetan Administration.


Tibetan Women’s Day was formulated in 2017 and declared on the concluding day of the first ever Tibetan Women Empowerment Conference organized by the Central Tibetan Administration. It was attended by close to 300 Tibetans amidst an overt disapproval from several women bodies and tacit disapproval from the general populace for its highly male-dominated presence on the dais, speaking down to women convened for the conference. As the outcome of the conference, the Tibetan Women Empowerment Policy was revised. The president of the CTA then proceeded to tell the women present that he would like to share a good news, that henceforth, Tibetan Women’s Day will be celebrated on March 12th every year!

Tibetan Women’s Uprising Day

March 12th is commemorated as Tibetan’s Women’s Uprising Day for the day in 1959 when Tibetan women came out in droves to resist the occupation of their homeland, two days after the historic March 10th, Tibetan National Uprising Day. The uprising was violently cracked down and many Tibetan women gave up their lives on that fateful day, standing up against the tyrannical force of Chinese the army.

TWA – Tibetan Women’s Association

After being rendered into exile in India, TWA was loosely based in several regions of India, including Kalimpong, Darjeeling, Dharamshala and Rajpur. These groups played a key role in reviving Tibetan culture and tradition by manning the dozens of Tibetan handicraft centres located in various settlements. According to a prominent women leader, Tibetan women were not at the forefront of the political movement in the first few decades of exile life because they were homemakers who sought to earn a meagre living in a bid to free their spouses to do whatever they can for the exile government.

In 1983, H.H. the XIV Dalai Lama convened an all non-governmental organizations meeting in Dharamshala where he mulled over the Tibetan Women’s Association of the past and expressed his wish to see it revived. That was the push that the ad hoc women committee needed, who, until then, were unsure about founding another non-governmental organization in the midst of public discord between the existing ones at the time. So, on September 10, 1984, TWA was reinstated in the presence of the Dalai Lama.

Mrs. Rinchen Khando Choegyal, the former Cabinet Minister of CTA who is currently leading the Tibetan Nun’s Project, was also the founding president of TWA that year.

In February 2017, she received an invitation at the 11th hour to be a panelist at CTA’s Women Empowerment Conference, as can be easily ascertained from her speech. After the conference, she was equally surprised by the declaration which only grew when she found out that TWA wasn’t kept in the loop, alluding to general lack of consensus and consultation.

According to Rinchen la, marking Tibetan Women’s Day on Tibetan Women’s Uprising Day was like pouring water in the milk.

“Tibetan Women Uprising Day has always been a source of inspiration for me. It is not just about women’s right, it is about the larger cause of Tibet, and we certainly cannot just make it about women’s right.”  – Rinchen Khadro 

In 1995, members of TWA took part in Tibetan Women Delegation that staged the famous non-violent direct action by Tibetan exiles in China at the site of the United Nations’ Fourth World Women’s Conference in Beijing.

Over the years, the organization continued to play a key role in representing Tibetan women in the diaspora and groomed dozens of women holding key positions in the community today.


The hype surrounding the declaration of Tibetan Women’s Day quickly dissipated into a slew of dissenting voice and opposition as its implication sank in. Many found it unsettling that when CTA can base our charter off the charters of other democracies of the world and adopt their system, why do the present Sikyong led 15th Kashag needs to come up with a specific day as Tibetan Women’s Day instead of marking the International Women’s Day in our own way?

The day after the declaration, the current TWA President, Dolma Yangchen and executive members of Central TWA approached the Sikyong during one of the bi-weekly cabinet meetups to express their reservation about the date of Tibetan Women’s Day. The Sikyong excused himself from the meeting, met the group and told them that it was a well thought out decision after having consulted many “educated women.”

So, on the 58th Tibetan Women’s Uprising Day on March 12th, 2017, the Central Tibetan Administration marked the first Tibetan Women’s Day at Tsug-lag-khang, in the presence of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. According to TWA President, Mrs Dolma Yangchen, Sikyong intimated them that His Holiness the Dalai Lama will grace the event and urged them to attend the function instead of heading to Delhi for a long-planned program. TWA representatives attended the first Tibetan Women’s Day function at Tsug-lag-khang mainly because they did not want to dishearten the Dalai Lama.

At the function, their fear came true. The mood was celebratory.

A women empowerment could be celebrated without any qualms in the imaginable future Tibet when we are over the current political vortex, not at this crucial moment in history when the leadership crisis is manifested in new issues infesting the community every day.

Reverting to Sikyong’s justification of having consulted educated women, one wonders who these educated women are? Turns out they are a group of female CTA officials holding posts of Additional Secretary and above, and a male official, grouped as the Women Empowerment Conference and Policy Drafting Committee, formed just before the conference. It is now known as Women Advisory Committee, without the male member. It is surprising that unlike the grand claims, the committee was against the idea, especially for its timing, and duly expressed their disagreement in writing. The committee’s disagreement was not only ignored but also not acknowledged as it was implied to the public that the Women Advisory Committee of CTA approved the formulation of the day. This points to how much say women have in CTA, in NGO’s and in the diaspora.

Concerned citizens expressed their disapproval and irony on social media in the days after the declaration. Tenzin Tsundue, a prominent writer and activist in exile, wrote:

Tibetan government in exile’s decision to turn the March 12 Tibetan women’s Uprising Day into celebrating “Tibetan Women’s Day” may change the resonance of the day’s importance in the national movement to one of rights struggle.”

After the rebuff, Central TWA sent out communications to its 58 regional chapters across the world to consult all its members. The response was unanimous in their disapproval and shock at the nonchalant way the 15th Kashag picked a historically and emotionally sensitive day, renamed it and presented it as a gift.

As the protocol demands, TWA officially wrote to the Kashag on March 23rd, 2017. The letter states that the TWA had a meeting with its advisory board members and previous executive members who were united in their stand against the observation of the Tibetan Women’s Day on the given date. The Kashag responded on April 5th, 2017 stating it cannot be changed as it was formulated taking many factors into consideration.

TWA wrote again on May 25th, 2017 after another urgent meeting and wondered aloud about the factors taken into consideration by the Kashag that renders the matter incontrovertible. The Kashag’s Secretary office wrote back on June 7th, 2017, summing up the key points of the TWA’s application and relaying the cabinet’s firm message that it cannot be changed.

On September 8th, 2017, TWA wrote to the members of the Tibetan Parliament before the second session of the year.

At the 5th session of the Tibetan Parliament-in-exile, the matter came up for discussion and parliamentarians of both gender expressed their misgivings about the day.

At the 5th session of the Tibetan Parliament-in-exile, the matter came up for discussion and parliamentarians of both gender expressed their misgivings about the day.

Mrs. Dolma Tsering, a seasoned member of the Tibetan Parliament-in-exile, clearly enumerated on what transpired after the declaration and reiterated the political significance of the day which is not just limited to the women.



When asked recently about the status of the Tibetan Women’s Day, she pointed out that it is the beauty of democracy that when a government body comes up with a policy and find out that the public is against it and in fact, resent it, the government body in question can retract it which will only raise their stature in the eyes of the group of people in question. And these observations, feelings and opinion are widely shared by the general public.

Here is the link to the video of Mrs. Dolma Tsering’s speech and Sikyong’s response during the parliament session dated 9-23-2017. 

(Mrs Dolma Tsering’s Speech 00:19:20 to 00:29:45 and Sikyong’s Response 01:00:45 to 01:17:50)

Sikyong’s Response

 Sikyong Dr Lobsang Sangay responded with the following points:


  1. TWA sought to have the Women Uprising Day – March 12th recognized as an official day like the March 10th. He also reiterated that it is just not possible as there are other organizations, older and bigger, that had made similar if not bigger contribution towards the cause of Tibet, that does and will demand for such official days.

Sikyong stated that it is not a new phenomenon and subsequent Kashag (cabinet) have stood the same ground in turning down such requests. TWA admits to having sent such letters. Here is a copy of a letter dated December 23rd, 2014 and the Kashag’s response dated January 12th, 2015.

TWA admitted that it is not easy, especially in places like Dharamshala where the CTA is based, to have the women attend the programs on a working day.

A factor we shouldn’t overlook is the changed political stand of our government-in-exile. The change in official political approach over the year has affected the effectiveness of the day. For instance, the Middle Way Approach requires, by its tenets, that conducive environment is created and maintained to foster dialogue. Therefore, protest is discouraged and people are divided about the effectiveness of protesting.

 2.  A TWA executive member shed tears and lamented the lack of participation on Women’s Uprising Day.

The TWA member in question was the Ex-President of Regional Tibetan Women’s Association of Raipur, Dehradun. The exchange took place in July 2014, more than three years prior to Sikyong’s response. After the conclusion of Tibetan Women Legal Empowerment workshops given at various settlements, about 20 participants were selected to attend a workshop in Dharamshala. It was a routine visit to the CTA compound and Parliament of government-in-exile. The Sikyong met the group in Nyatri hall and encouraged questions. This is a one-off incident of an active grassroots member of the community sharing her feelings to the head of CTA. 

3.  The day will not give into celebration.

When Sikyong said this, it was more than six months after the first Tibetan Women’s Day was marked at Tsuglagkhang. His Holiness the Dalai Lama was invited to grace the event and Sikyong said it was an honour to celebrate the Tibetan Women’s Uprising Day and Tibetan Women’s Day together. At the event, members of Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts were called to perform a song eulogizing the day. It named and lauded the female deities and luminaries for protecting the welfare of women and bringing about equality in the society. While there is no problem in showing gratitude, it seems to take away something from the sacrifices of the ordinary Tibetan women.

4.    Sikyong and the 15th Kashag construed that TWA has a problem and felt responsible to solve it.

The issue is far more than TWA’s problem. It is far more than just remembering Tibetan women martyrs. It is about rampant misuse of power in formulating and devising policies at the risk of changing the resonance of a historically significant day. There is much to be saddened about the arbitrary management of 5-50 conference too, where some of the largest non-governmental organizations in exile like TYC and TWA were not invited.

5.    By observing Tibetan Women’s Day on March 12th, the contribution of Tibetan women in the history will be imparted more effectively while promoting women empowerment.

As opined by many women, marking Tibetan Women’s Day on March 12 not only creates a clash between the past and future, between sacrifices and rights, between remembrance and visualizing, between solemnity and celebration, it risks overshadowing the original significance of the day. 

 Let’s analyze the official CTA coverage of the first Tibetan Women’s Day and the 58th Tibetan Women’s Uprising Day.

Few generations down the line, Tibetan Women’s Day could take precedence over Tibetan Women’s Uprising Day, especially for generations who have never seen Tibet or have parents who have never seen Tibet.

6.     Claimed that the presence at the protest march in the afternoon of the First Tibetan Women’s Day may be the biggest in Dharamshala March 12th history.

When asked about this claim, TWA president stated that they would rather have ten women protesting on March 12th to mark the Women’s Uprising Day than have thousand throng the street unsure of why they are there.

7.     It is regrettable that Tibetan Women Empowerment Desk saw four women officers in seven years, as they kept leaving.


It is widely observed that the lack of authority delegated to the officers in charge may have been discouraging to the women who stepped up to the desk.  

However, the biggest question remains unanswered.

What moral and political authority does the Sikyong Lobsang Sangay led 15th Kashag of Central Tibetan Administration, a government-in-exile of less than 1,50,000 Tibetans in diaspora that cannot claim to represent the vast majority of Tibetans inside Tibet have, to first, nonchalantly pick a key historical day and name it something else and secondly, overlook the concern expressed by all the stakeholders of its constituents about the implications of formulation of the Tibetan Women’s Day on March 12th ?


On the eve of 59th Tibetan Women’s Uprising Day, there is no indication of a grand official function to mark the second Tibetan Women’s Day. However, a circular has been sent out to all the settlement offices that require them to convene a meeting in the afternoon of Tibetan Women’s Day on March 12 to follow-up on the revised Women Empowerment Policy.




Tenzin Sangmo is a freelance journalist and a graduate of Columbia Journalism School.

The views expressed in this article are that of the author’s and should not be attributed to Tibet Express.







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