A Tibetan mother of two, who was also a popular social media personality, died at the hands of her ex-husband on 30 September because she had refused to return to her abusive marriage. Lhamo, 30, was stabbed and then set on fire by the ex-husband on 14 September while she was live streaming from her home. The horrifying attack on Lhamo on the Chinese video app Douyin triggered a wave of outrage among Chinese netizens, who condemned the crime and demanded that Chinese authorities be held accountable for failing to prevent domestic violence. Despite government censorship, there were vociferous calls advocating for better laws and support systems for domestic abuse victims. Lhamo’s tragic death highlighted China’s appalling tolerance of gender-based violence despite enacting the Anti-Domestic Law in 2016.
Domestic violence is still a widespread problem in the People’s Republic of China (PRC), owing to a pervasive lack of public awareness with law enforcement officers treating it as a “private family matter”, ignoring its criminality and inhumanity. Weiping, a prominent Beijing-based women’s rights NGO that collaborates with the UN to combat domestic violence, reported between 2016 and 2019, 942 cases of domestic violence resulting in 1,214 deaths, out of which more than 76% were women and 7% were minors.
As a human problem, crimes of gender-based violence (GBV) happen in every society and culture, including Tibet and the exile Tibetan community. To prevent and end GBV crimes, the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) joins the global campaign of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, commencing on 25 November, which is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, and ending on 10 December, Human Rights Day.
TCHRD’s campaign kicks off with a pre-recorded webinar panel discussion on GBV in the Tibetan community featuring a diverse mix of distinguished experts, leaders and activists of the GBV and women’s rights movement. Dechen Tsering, a veteran gender equality expert and activist, speaks about how public outrage against GBV is not enough and that there need to be policies and actions in place at all levels. “We have to get to a point where the leaders in our community are willing to put their necks out and risk being elected because they are going to raise some really tough questions on gender-based violence in our community,” she says, in reference to some social media posts that called women candidates in the upcoming exile Tibetan elections “brainless” and ranked them so that the “hottest” candidate could be voted.
China’s leading feminist activist and thought leader, Lu Pin, shares her struggles and triumphs of overcoming barriers to creating a GBV-free society and facing up to the tyranny of a conservative and authoritarian regime. On Lhamo’s murder, Lu says, “The [Chinese] government failed to respond to our request and our needs. So, the government’s inaction is tolerance of violence, which in itself is a form of violence against women. We know the inaction of the powerful is a serious problem but no one dares to say it. Everyone keeps silent and pretends not to see the elephant in the room.”
Dr. Hamsa Rajan, a postdoctoral fellow and lecturer in Contemporary Chinese Studies at University of Oxford, discusses not just gender-based violence but also the wider repercussions of social and cultural norms and beliefs on young women. “It means some young women may struggle with more insecurity, less confidence, and less social support to be independent-minded and to foster their critical thinking.”
Sangmo Thar, a domestic violence counsellor and trainer, concurs by sharing personal experiences of witnessing women in her village praying religiously to be reborn as men in their next lives. “They really value boys over girls. So, that makes us secondary citizens. Psychologically it is very unhealthy for us to hear this kind of message. These practices and beliefs are negative and unnecessary, and I call it socially constructed culture and men-made culture. I don’t think women made it by themselves.”
Reacting to Lhamo’s tragic death, Tenzin Pelyoun, gender activist and co-founder of Drokmo, a feminist organisation working on gender justice in Tibetan and Himalayan communities in India, says the crime not only highlighted the poor state of legal provisions and measures available to support GBV victims in Tibet, but also reminded that “[W]e continue to live in an oppressive and patriarchal society wherein men continue to exert power and control, and strip women of their choices and agencies without any fear for consequences.”
Throughout the 16 Days, stories and opinions of feminist leaders and women’s rights activists about gender-based violence and gender equality will be published on TCHRD’s social media accounts to create awareness and trigger public conversations and debates on a subject that is still considered a taboo in many societies and cultures. A video campaign will shine light on the experiences of women like Lhamo with the support of Tibetan male feminists standing up for gender equality, as part of the #HeForShe campaign.
TCHRD invites everyone to join our campaign or contribute in other ways to support GBV survivors during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has seen “an alarming increase in multiple forms of violence against women and girls, especially physical, psychological, sexual and economic forms of domestic violence fueled by household economic and food insecurity and confined living conditions due to lockdown and social isolation measures.”
For more information, log on to https://www.unwomen.org/en/news/in-focus/end-violence-against-women