This past Friday, the Tibetan Women’s Association hosted a talk about the status of Tibetan woman in exile and in Tibet at the Tibet Museum in Dharamsala, India. It was encouraging to hear that the TWA is sponsoring one hundred Tibetan women and provides educational fellowships, but the exclusive focus on condemning Chinese abuses without any discussion of problems within the community was a disappointment. It was frustrating to be in Dharamsala listening to a long talk about the status of Tibetan women that did not mention abuse of Tibetan women right there in Dharamsala even once. I wasn’t sure if I should speak up or not until I felt compelled by another audience member’s statement. Before the TWA speaker could answer a question about opportunities to connect with other NGOs to combat prostitution in the Tibetan community, an American woman a few rows back condescendingly interjected her view that prostitution isn’t an issue in Tibetan culture. Wow, is she ever wrong. A little shaky with nerves, I felt that as the only Tibetan woman present beside the speaker I should say something, so I told her that we do have that problem and that many Tibetan women are taking advantage of without even a prostitute’s right to be paid. “What’s your point?,” she responded.
The point is that silence is a form of consent. Silence about problems like rape and domestic violence creates an environment where they are permitted to persist unchallenged. The issue isn’t about judging Tibetan behavior, it’s about the community’s response to abusive behaviors that happen everywhere and our ability to fight against them. The first step toward positive change is facing the fact that we have a problem. If that means shattering the Shangri-la myth held by a few of our foreign supporters isn’t it a small price to pay for protecting Tibetan women?