"Tibetan Women – Where do they stand?"

Title: Tibetan Women – Where do they stand?
Tenpa Dugdak
Published: August 17th, 2005
Link: http://www.tibet.ca/en/wtnarchive/2005/8/17_5.html

“Women are not supported or encouraged by our society as much as men.”
Tenpa Dugdak

I got an email request to put this article up for discussion so here it is. The article talks about the unequal treatment of Tibetan women in current Tibetan society, and the hypocrisy it presents.

“Tibetan women are merely seen as the ones who wash dishes or do the laundry and cooking. Don’t you think it’s right time to move from this sort of stereotype? It is a shame that we are losing the abilities of Tibetan women not because they are not competent but because they are not given a chance. This sort of thing is happening in Tibetan families all over the world, not just in Tibet. Recently I visited a Tibetan family and lucky me, momos were being prepared. Of course I was asked to stay. The husband was sitting on the sofa, sipping his tea while his wife prepared the momos. I gave her a hand and later she thanked me for helping her. The husband never got up to help.”

“Just look around your community and I bet everyone would talk about a woman’s goodness in terms of how quiet she is or how shy she is, not because she is strong and confident. So, whose fault it that? If our society suffers from not having enough women principals, doctors, and Kalons then it is our society’s fault, not the fault of individual women.”

*I don’t think its fair for him to say that it is always completely a society’s fault if it suffers from not having enough successful women. A society or community has a part to play in supporting and allowing an individual to succeed but the individual still has his or her own responsibility and part to play in his or her own success. Of course I know that there are cases where a society is at complete fault for not having any successful or women with equal social standing as men.

“When I was in school I loved ‘Shating‘ because there are to me back then there were lots and lots of negative things about women. But now it just disgusts me having been taught such things in school. Having said that, one Tibetan here told me that Shating is actually intended for monks and I thought that does make sense but then why teach this in school where the system is co-educational? It is psychological and emotional abuse for Tibetan women.

*This is something I didn’t understand because I’m not familiar with what ‘Shating‘ is. If someone reading this knows what this is please explain.

-“I heard this incidence where one nunnery had invited a ‘Rinpoche‘ to their nunnery to give them a blessing and teachings. Upon his arrival he said to them, ‘ Pray hard in this life in order to be re-born as a male’. What a hypocrite!”

“The word ‘kaimein‘ means inferior of birth. One of my friends told me that this word was used in one part of Tibet and now it has spread across the Tibetan Community in India. So, it might be a good idea next time to think twice before using this word to describe a woman, as this is not a Tibetan Buddhist word. The word ‘nigger’ is no longer used in western society unless purposely used to discriminate against black people so ‘kaimein‘ has to go as it too is clearly discriminatory against women and it is abusive”.

*I wrote in an earlier post that the word ‘Kaimein‘ or ‘Kye-men’ means inferior birth, just as it does in this excerpt, but someone commented that this isn’t the case and that it actually is an old word for the the stomach area of a woman. I’m still not 100% sure on which etymology(true meaning) is correct. Also the word ‘nigger’ is still in use in western society since we hear it in music and the media and still it is used in a non-discriminatory way, so I would say his statement is false.

Comment on what you think of this article by Tenpa Dugdak, do you agree with his article? Is he overgeneralizing the situation? Is Tibetan society less equal then Western society like the author states? (ex:”I really do think we can learn something about the equal treatment of woman from the west.”) Does religion create a sexist attitude towards women, like the belief of only being able to achieve enlightenment as a male? Should the word ‘kaimein‘ be completely banned or discouraged from use in the Tibetan language?


20 thoughts on “"Tibetan Women – Where do they stand?"

  1. tLo

    The part in the article where it said (I’m paraphrasing here) ‘a women is praised on how shy and quiet she is’ really hit me! It is so true, and I hear it all the time talking to Tibetans. People always praise the shy and quiet girls who stay in and don’t network and go out a lot. This however, is totally differnt in the Western society, and girls who are shy and quiet are usually looked down upon and if a girl doesn’t go out partying, she is seen as anti-social. Also, if you have these so-called ‘positive’ Tibetan traits, it is very hard to get around in the Western society. How many CEOs or politicians do you see that are shy and quiet??? Especially because of our cause, I think this whole viewpoint should actually change so we can become these powerful politicians or leaders in society to help our Tibetan cause. However, being Tibetan, it can be difficult to choose which is best overall…

  2. Jigme32

    I’m half and half on that statement in the article because I know from personal experience that its true that shy and quiet Tibetan girls might be praised by other Tibetans.

    But then when I posted my post on “Tibetan Women”, the role of a Tibetan women was described as: visiting with relations and friends quite often, “She[a Tibetan woman] ought to go to plays and spectacles, be sociable and not keep to herself.”

    So in a sense that’s contradictory with what the author is saying. But I think this is because it is hard to say something so general to describe a whole society’s feelings with a statement such as Tibetans praise quiet and shy girls.

    Because just like you stated that western society usually look down upon girls who are shy and quiet in my opinion I would say its the opposite because I was reading this interesting article about an experiment that was done at a university to see which gender in fact talks more. When people were polled on their opinion almost everyone said that they believe women talk much more than men. But when they finished their experiment they found out that in fact men and women talk almost exactly the same amount of words in their daily lives. They said that because women are labeled or stereotyped to be chatterboxes they are believed to talk much more then a man.

    So in that sense even if it isn’t as openly stated or apparent as it with Tibetans, it seems like western society still has the same praise for women who talk less or are more quiet since they see women who talk just as much as a man as a chatterbox.

    So basically I think both societies treatment of women are not as different as people may think, just that Tibetans may be more open about it.

  3. Pd

    Here is my two cents: As much as I believe that it is the individual’s responsibility to demonstrate determination in achieving their goals, I agree that it is important to recognize society’s contribution in presenting obstacles for women and especially women belonging to a minority group. Having said that, I’m not sure how prevalent or large of an issue this is in Tibetan communities, although I won’t deny its existence since we all know that Tibetans are highly traditional peoples. There is a however a large group of Tibetans that are very modern and at I think every Tibetan family has found value in at least some aspects of the modern or western ways of life.

    Here’s my beef I guess:
    The belief that quiet women are well behaved and therefore have acquired a ‘proper’ upbringing is a traditional belief that was common in almost any Asian society at one point in their history. So Tibetans do not face this sort of thing alone. However I don’t see why being shy or quiet is a necessary evil either, that type of belief is no different than the ignorance in believing that outgoing and personable women are the best type of women. Neither of these qualities alone makes a woman into great person or a bad person, moreover I think it should be made clear that being a house wife is not such a terrible thing as we have portrayed it to be. A house wife is a difficult job that requires a 24/7 effort from a woman as opposed to the man who only works an 8/5 shift, this position demands respect and I think men are not the only ones guilty of labeling this role as weak, stupid or useless, women are also if not even more so guilty of doing the same thing. Living in a western society we tend to believe that the fruits of labor can only be realized through material possessions and money but many those wives give their lives to their families and unconditional love to their children that money cannot substitute for. That said, if a daughter has no choice and is forced to being a housewife then I’d say this type of narrowly constricted definition is obviously flawed.

    From what I’m witnessing, as a Canadian born Tibetan, the focus of most Tibetan parents is not if a woman or daughter can cook or clean those qualities now seem like secondary priorities, but if that woman or daughter is educated. I think there has been a shift to the importance of education and as that grows it will likely eradicate any misinformed beliefs that we still hold, for instance the belief that a quiet woman is necessarily brought up properly compared to the outspoken woman. I have more to say but ran out of time but I’m open to the responses thus far…

  4. Dan

    I think the comment about the Tibetan word kyemen (skye-dman) is off track. The word wasn’t limited to any small part of Tibet. True, it does mean ‘low rebirth’ and true it ought to be ditched if you ask me. But no, it is really a Buddhist idea (or, at least, an idea Buddhists came up with about insufficient merit [sönam] resulting in ‘low rebirth’ [kyewa men, skye-ba dman] of various kinds, including the bodies of women). But it’s clear that the word emerged near the end of the 12th century and thereafter started to replace the earlier term pumé (bud-med), which you find used in all the old Dunhuang documents as the most common word for ‘woman’. For more, read Janet Gyatso & Hanna Havnevik’s book “Women in Tibet.” And try speaking out of knowledge rather than resentment and other such nyönmong states of mind (or rather than listening to gossip). Resentment is truly not a ‘Buddhist’ emotion (or an emotion a Buddhist ought to have or cultivate) however justifiable one may feel about having it.

  5. Jigme32

    Are you referring to me or the author (Tenpa Dugdak)?


    What do you think about those Buddhists who believe enlightenment is only possible as a male? Like the Rinpoche the author says told a nunnery “Pray hard in this life in order to be re-born as a male”. Is this a correct or incorrect interpretation of Buddhism?

  6. Dan

    I’m not sure who I’m talking to, everyone I guess. You can find plenty of Mahayana Sutra justification for the idea that the male form is better for achieving Enlightenment. The best place to look in English is Diana Y. Paul, “Women in Buddhism: Images of the Feminine in the Mahayana Tradition” (Berkeley 1985). But this isn’t unequivocal in Mahayana, and sometimes you think the sutras are contradicting each other on this point. After all, Tara achieved Buddhahood in a female body just to show that it can be done (which evidently was shocking to those who were thinking it wasn’t likely). I’ve read recently some people denying that this is the case, but in Vajrayana Buddhism the women’s body is often said to be superior for achieving Enlightenment. (Tsongkhapa and his disciple Khedrup Je say this also.)

    If that Rinpoche truly said to “Pray hard to become a man,” it at least implies that women have it bad as far as opportunities are concerned. And of course nowadays when people are more used to thinking in terms of social legislation and social engineering, we would want to say that it’s the opportunities that need to be better provided for!


  7. PD

    Oh right that was the second part that I was going to address thanks Dan. The part where the Rinpoche said “Pray hard…” , there are probably two likely explainations. The first is the unlikely but still possible: I mean there are ‘fake’ Rinpoche’s out there, its not uncommon in Tibet and India to have ‘fake’ monks. There are many things I mean by fake, mainly that they are abusing the monk position for some personal gain. Although, I doubt the first possibility is what was being referred to. The second is that, that statment was taken out of context, people who don’t have a background in Buddhism or at least some experience with it will immediately draw their own harsher conclusions from that. He should have provided some context for that statement, its a little misleading. Yeah thanks for the heads up on the reading Dan.

  8. Anonymous

    The whitewashed tibetans are not the real tibetans, same can be said for the tibetan girls.
    In real Tibet, a girl would go out to live in a white tent that is seperated from her family. If a tibetan young man likes her, he would go sleep in the tent and they would become a family.
    In real Tibet, It’s quite common that several tibetan women share the same husband or brothers share the same wife. A lot of tibetan women are single mothers. Their children dont know who these father is.

  9. Jigme32

    “In real Tibet, a girl would go out to live in a white tent that is separated from her family. If a Tibetan young man likes her, he would go sleep in the tent and they would become a family”.

    -Not all Tibetans in Tibet live or lived in tents. Also as for the:

    “If a Tibetan young man likes her, he would go sleep in the tent and they would become a family”.

    -What is your source for this? This seems unlikely because most Tibetan marriages were chosen by the parents who would choose the wife or husband in the interests of the family, no different from most societies in similar periods.

    In fact this sounds similar to a Spartan tradition where instead of white tent it is a dark room, except afterwards it wasn’t a considered a union of husband and wife just a method to allow a woman to bear children.

    “In real Tibet, It’s quite common that several Tibetan women share the same husband or brothers share the same wife. A lot of Tibetan women are single mothers. Their children don’t know who these father is.”

    -Do you mean they are single mothers as in they don’t know who the father is or that the father or father figure is not present? This sounds strange to me as well, where did you find this from?

  10. dab

    “Real Tibetan” is a moniker adopted by someone pretending to be Tibetan these days and saying nonsense, evidently out of a conscious motive of spreading misinformation about what they call “Real Tibetans.”


    These days we have to trust our creepiest instincts, or perhaps you just imagining I’m giving into paranoia.

    But face it, no real Tibetan would call themselves “Real Tibetan.” That’s just not true Tibetan style!


  11. zaragyemo

    Wrote a long one and then felt stupid…so I deleted everything.

    So, to answer “where does Tibetan woman stand?”

    Speaking for myself, I stand with the truth. I don’t know if this has anything to do with being Tibetan or a woman.

    It`s weird, I never looked,thought,questioned,answered and made decisions from a point of view of a Tibetan Woman. It never occurred to me, I thought as a human being for most part and then a woman for women issues.


  12. asianplumb

    Shanghain women control the majority of the finances and running of the family and business’s in Shanghai. Perhaps there will be some balancing of equality for Tibetan women under Chinese rule after all the propaganda demonizing China’s control of Tibet. The current Tibetans in exile including the Dalai Lama’s 2 brothers chose not to get off their arse and work like everyone else toward a more modern less stoneage Tibet! Lamas/Monks feel that the world should feed them because they’re lazy and have historically exploited their population for centuries. So don’t bite the hand that feeds you and shun the one that taxes you and keeps you in the dark. If you’re Tibetan and read this online in Tibet you don’t have to thank a Lama as there was no electricity for you under them to run your p/c on!

  13. Tenpa, I admire you for your activism on both counts –ie ‘pro Tibetan freedom’ and equality of the sexes within the Tibetan cultural framework —be warned, though –the likes of ‘asianplumb’ above will use the latter argument against you and claim that China ‘liberated’ Tibet from tyranny —pity the Chinese Gov isn’t ‘liberating’ minorities of all kinds in their own midst –indeed –repression is stepping up

    Cheers, Tenpa –I admire you

  14. Grace

    I agree that Tibetan women are under appreciated,
    But it’s not all the fault of the men,
    if that’s what they’ve been taught,
    that’s what they’ll pass down,
    the chain needs to be broken.

  15. dennis coleman

    I wonder how much of this has been sponsored by trhe Chinese Government trying to ‘re-educate ‘ the West about ‘Tibetology’ —sure —issues relating to gender exist within Tibetan society but none more so than most other Asian societies —- the greater issue is the Chinese domination and attmpted destruction of Tibetan culture

  16. sjr

    “Also the word ‘nigger’ is still in use in western society since we hear it in music and the media and still it is used in a non-discriminatory way, so I would say his statement is false.”

    “Nigger” is still a derogatory term used in America against black Americans. The term is often embraced by the black community as a way to reclaim the word from the previous negative connotations (similar to “bitch”, “slut”, and “queer”), but it is not culturally acceptable for anyone other than a black American to use the word, typically.

    Someone asked about Tibetan women and multiple husbands, which I believe is termed “fraternal polyandry” by Nancy Levine.

    Even if ‘Kaimein‘ or ‘Kye-men’ means “women’s stomachs”, the negative associations seem to point towards an inferiority of birth, whether it be the sex (female) or the form of birth (physical as opposed to spiritual / enlightenment). I’m not sure if Tibetan Buddhism contains a spiritual rebirth / awakening, so more information would be helpful!

    Women are oppressed in every society, but that does not mean every individual takes part.

    Does anyone know about prostitution in Lhasa? I’m trying to research this topic.

  17. Pingback: Tibetan Women – Where do they stand? | tangnyom

  18. Tenzin nam

    This is not only an issue in Tibet but every where so stop the nonsense and negative comment specialty Mr. Anonymous. Comparing to other countries and culture, Tibetan women are in much more better treated and respected and many are heads of the family and have the final say to many decisions. Did any one know that the Tibetan parliament has the biggest percentage of women MP in the world, more than US parliament. Now beat that. We do have problems and China is not the ones to fix it but our own Tibetans realizes these problems and we are working hard with challenges to fix an old society that has flourished for over 5 thousand years. I am very glad that our younger generations see these problems and trying to make the change. All Tibetan men must first stop calling their wives as keimen and that’s the starting point. I love my grand am, I love my mother, I love my sister, I love my daughters and most of all I live my wife and I respect them all. By the way I love and respect my aunts who took great care of me. Thank you Tenpa la for your thoughts.

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