International Women’s Day: Canada Tibet Committee honours Tibetan women
March 8, 2013 - As the number of self-immolation protests continues to escalate in Tibet, Tibetan women stand at the forefront of the struggle for human rights and political freedom in their homeland. Last week, Tsering Woeser, a Beijing-based Tibetan poet and blogger who regularly speaks out about conditions in Tibet, was awarded the International Women’s Courage Award by the Government of the United States. Woeser dedicated the award to Tibetan self-immolaters.
At least 14 of the confirmed self-immolations in Tibet have been women including seventeen- year-old Wangchen Kyi who died of her burns on December 9, 2012. Kyi lived an area of eastern Tibet where forced displacement of nomadic communities has destroyed traditional ways of life and denied their means of subsistence. According to witnesses, before setting herself alight, Kyi called out for the long life of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
Tibetan women have long been at the forefront of the Tibetan struggle. On March 8, 1959, as a national uprising loomed, women from all walks of life and various parts of Tibet gathered in the nation’s capital of Lhasa to prepare an appeal for support from the international community. More than 5000 women took to the streets in an outstanding act of defiance. Their protest led to arrests, torture, and long prison sentences. Several, including leader Pema Kusang, were eventually executed in a public execution near Sera Monastery in 1970.
During the UN’s Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, Tibetan women again organized themselves to overcome numerous obstacles limiting their right to participate in the conference. Eventually, sixteen of eighty applicants obtained entry visas to China and were able to bring critical issues facing Tibetan women inside Tibet, including forced sterilization and denial of economic rights, to the attention of the international community.
Today, Tibetan women continue to raise their voices in defiance of intimidation and the threat of sanction or arrest. Their actions serve as an inspiration to women around the world. On International Women’s Day, the Canada Tibet Committee salutes Tibetan women and stands in solidarity with their struggle.