By Penpa Dolma & Tashi Namgyal
For too long we have allowed those in power to make laws for us as a collective. The common people trust authority ﬁgures to make laws fair for all and maintain them. In our Tibetan community and in the larger global community, we have witnessed that power that is not accountable to the common people gets easily corrupted. As a consequence, abuse of power becomes rampant.
Our Tibetan Identity Is Not A Monolith
Although we are all Tibetan, this is not our only identity. First and foremost we are earthlings who share this planet with diverse sentient beings from many different backgrounds, different regional associations, with different levels of capacity and living all across the world. Our Tibetan experience is not monolithic. We are multidimensional.
The failure of our administration to appreciate Tibetan diversity has led to deep polarization within the community and the marginalization of those with differing views. Those in power are responsible to create safe and brave spaces for differing opinions and to look for common ground. But their performance has been unskilled and has set a negative precedent for the rest of the community to follow.
We are here to say, we have had enough of the dominant powers playing politics with common peoples’ real life pain and suffering. Today, we are bringing “forward” the unaddressed issue of Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) within our community. We are not the first one to voice this and we won’t be the last to ask for accountability until we as a collective culture change our stigmatic views on this taboo subject.
According to the World Health Organization, 1 in 3 (30%) of women globally and up to 1 billion children between the ages of 2-17 yrs old have faced physical, sexual, and emotional violence. The data within our community matches the global data. In Drokmo’s Sexual Abuse Against Students report, 38% of respondents reported experiencing sexual violence. This number is higher than the global average.
In a recent report titled Status of Tibetan Women and Girls in India and Nepal (2018), the research team was able to clearly show that our Tibetan society is not exempt from SGBV. Although the Women’s Empowerment Desk at CTA set some guidelines for prevention and mitigation of such cases, there hasn’t been any accountability in enforcing the guidelines.
As recently as March 29th, 2022, during the 17th Tibetan Parliament in Exile (TPiE)’s budget session, there were attempts by a number of male Chithues (MPs) to resist the necessary budget allocation to address gender inequality. The blind spot of male privilege and the lack of understanding regarding the plight of at least 50% of the Tibetan population who live with the reality of SGBV is stark and heartbreaking. This refusal to address the issue of SGBV continues to perpetuate misinformation about the existence of SGBV within our community.
Legacy of Trauma
If we are honest about ourselves as people who have lost our nation, our livelihoods, and our way of life, we have incurred unimaginable losses and trauma which have dysregulated our nervous systems into survival mechanisms of fight, flight, freeze, and fawn response. While Buddhadharma helps bring us perspective, without daily deep contemplative and somatic practices to support in releasing these traumas, most of our population live in a dysregulated body. We are easily provoked into fight and aggression, flight into addictions and entertainment, freeze into depression and complacency, and fawn into pleasing authority figures even if it’s an oppressive one. We live in a body of shame, guilt, and suppression of feelings and emotions which gets enacted upon those with less power, mainly women and children.
Domestic Violence is rampant in our community, yet, there is no systemic addressing of this crisis.Watching the parliamentary sessions and our MPs’ inability to honor differences and maturely handle disagreements and come back more informed and resilient as an administration is a testament of how deep our unprocessed trauma is. Whenever cases of SGBV are brought within the family system or at a community level, certain predictable patterns arise:
Victim blaming: On top of being abused, victims are blamed for inviting and asking for the abuse. We won’t dare to say that Tibetans invited and asked China to occupy us. It was the colonizing mentality of CCP, abuse of power and might that rendered us as refugees today. Similarly, we cannot blame the victims of SGBV for being overpowered by perpetrators.
Instead, we need to protect the victims and hold abusers accountable. We need systemic protocol. We must provide every resource that victims need to bring these cases forward. We must ask who benefits by blaming the victims of SGBV? Of course, the answer is the perpetrators.
Face saving through glorification of shame: In Buddhist psychology, shame can be considered a virtue. It is a mental factor that restrains causing harm as a result of respect for self and others. It is a conscience that stops us from causing harm.
Unfortunately, the dominant culture has appropriated shame and used it as a collective weapon. Instead of extending validation and compassion towards the victims, shame is used to suppress, hide, and deny its abuse of power, perpetuating more harm and creating false peace. When that repression leads to depression, addiction, and furthers the cycles of violence, we place moral judgements on the victims’ coping mechanisms.
It is time we say enough, break our silences and stand up for victims by asking for systemic change. We must allocate the shame to whom it belongs, and bring accountability, safety, and trust to the victims. As a collective, we must break our silence and normalize having these inconvenient and difficult conversations if we are going to move forward with trust and belonging as a community.
Staying silent and abstaining from mindless speech, harsh speech, and false speech are virtues. Staying silent and abstaining from speaking out on violence is cowardice, not compassion. Forced silence to upkeep lies, violence, and abuse is oppression. It is neither democratic nor peaceful.
We fight for our Tibetan cause, exposing the lies of CCP on a daily basis because we know if we stay silent, we are colluding with the lies and are complicit in our own oppression. Let us not stay silent within our own community.
The polarization of womens’ human rights issues into a political one: When a victim comes forward with an allegation of abuse, and if the perpetrator happens to be a person of authority, such as in the case of Acharya Yeshi Phuntsok, former deputy speaker of our parliament, right away it is politicized as a stance against a certain faction of our community.
For those unaware of this case, please watch the Youtube linked below. Tenzin Chokey la, a victim of Yeshi Phuntsok, came forward to protest his invitation to a prominent gathering in New York. Right away she’s dehumanized, and the case is politicized. Even when she is clear that this is a womens’ human rights issue and she is not interested in political drama between factions.
The sexual abuses of Yeshi Phuntsok leaving multiple victims seems to be an open secret within the Dhasa community. The cowardice and the fear of being politicized and outcast by the exile community has kept many in silence. How many young women and children have to live in deep depression, anxiety, shame, mistrust, swallow the silences, bury and carry the shame of patriarchal violence and numb themselves so that abusers like him can walk freely? Where are the checks and balances here?
We make daily prayers for the happiness and freedom from suffering for all mother sentient beings. Where are the systems to protect the mother beings of this lifetime from harm like SGBV?
Central Tibetan Administration’s Failure
The CTA’s lack of implementing the guidelines to protect women and others in vulnerable positions (i.e. children, uneducated, disabled, transgender and dissenting voices) is a great disappointment to Tibetans like us. This lack of protection weakens our democracy. In our opinion, the inability to bring the perpetrators into accountability and offer reparations to the victims delegitimizes the administration’s authority, not just within the community, but also in the international scene. If we have to bring order and unity through conformity, we are following in the footsteps of authoritarian regimes like China.
The beauty of democracy is in its ability to not just tolerate diverse voices, but in honoring and appreciation of our differences.This diversity births creativity, innovation, and resilience to create novel ways of advocating for the Tibetan cause. The fear and repression of diversity is authoritarian in nature and brittle at core.
By not addressing these serious concerns without bias and by forcing silence upon at least 50% of the population, we are negating the potential fire that lives inside this population to become viable champions of our cause. By undermining this population, CTA is undermining the greater Tibetan cause.
Call to Action
Gender equality means women and LGBTQ+ are asking for bodily autonomy and to be treated as equal partners in building a future for all, especially for the future generations, and to be given access to the resources necessary to manifest this.
We will not survive as a nation without including the wishes and prayers of women, children, and the marginalized populations. We will not survive as a species without coming into the right relationship with this earth and all her beings.
If this letter resonates with you, and you want to see a just Tibetan society, please have these difficult conversations with your family and friends. Normalize having inconvenient but necessary conversations, not just for the sake of the current generations, but for the future and safety of all our children and nation. Ask your regional representatives to the CTA to take a stand on this.
Finally, please share this letter far and wide and join your voice and forces with us by signing this letter.
Gratefully, Signed By
Penpa Dolma (Innovative Yogis, US)
Tashi Namgyal ( Sikkim University, India)
(views expressed are their own)
Penpa Dolma is an entrepreneur and a trauma informed yoga and meditation teacher based in Colorado, USA. Her work centers around transforming individuals and communities through decolonial lens. She is an alumnus of Upper TCV and has a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from University of Denver.
Lekdhen, T. (2022, April 13). Opinion: Women’s empowerment is a touchy topic, even in the Parliament. Phayul. Retrieved December 2, 2022, from https://www.phayul.com/2022/04/08/47001/
Pelyoun, T., & Kalsang, T. (2019). Sexual Abuse Against Children. Drokmo
Nyibum, T. (2022, October 7). Current situation. YouTube. Retrieved December 4, 2022, from https://youtu.be/Fr0SJA7Zxl0
WHO. (2021, March 9). Violence against women. World Health Organization. Retrieved December 2, 2022, from
WHO. (2022, November 29). Violence against children. World Health Organization.
Retrieved December 2, 2022, from
Yangchen, J. (2020, October 20). WED publishes guidelines on sexual and Gender Based Violence(SGBV) for Tibetans-in-exile. Sard Fund. Retrieved December 2, 2022, from https://sardfund.org/wed-publishes-guidelines-on-sexual-and-gender-based-violencesgbv-f or-tibetans-in-exile/
Resources for Trauma Healing
Levine, P. (2014, February 19). Dr. Peter Levine on child sexual abuse and relational trauma. YouTube. Retrieved December 2, 2022, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E08tLsWM41A
Keeley Taverner, M. U. (2018, September 11). Why victims of childhood sexual abuse may bury memories of the abuse. YouTube. Retrieved December 2, 2022, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DxN82S-yJhY
Quinn, J. (2017, May 16). My story of surviving sexual abuse & how to prevent this silent killer | Jenna Quinn | TEDxUTD. YouTube. Retrieved December 2, 2022, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HylQgrkp-Yo
Mate, D. G. (2019, January 6). Dr Gabor Maté – childhood trauma creates addiction – part 1/2 | london real. YouTube. Retrieved December 2, 2022, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ojq-U13726
Additional Resource for Reading
United Nations. (n.d.). Fourth World Conference on Women, Beijing 1995. United Nations. Retrieved December 8, 2022, from https://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/beijing/platform/