The Tibetan Women's Association (TWA) was founded in Tibet on March 12, 1959. On this day - known as Women's Uprising Day - thousands of Tibetan women from all three provinces gathered together in Lhasa to protest against the illegal occupation of Tibet by Communist China. Protesting peacefully outside the Potala Palace, hundreds of these women suffered brutally at the hands of the Chinese troops. They were arrested, imprisoned, tortured, and beaten without trial.
A period of transition for TWA followed this uprising when many Tibetan women were forced to flee Tibet to live in exile in India. From 1959 to 1984 many Tibetan women's groups were established in India, such as in Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Dharamsala, and Rajpur. Some of these groups initiated handicraft centers for women in their localities. These handicraft centers helped preserve Tibet's arts and crafts and imparted skills to Tibetan women so they could earn their livelihood during their early refugee life.
On the 10th of September 1984, with the blessings of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan Women's Association was officially reinstated with 12 branches throughout India. Today, the TWA has over 20,000 members and 58 branches worldwide including branches in India, Nepal, Europe, Japan, Australia, Switzerland, the United States of America, and Canada. TWA sees itself as the natural continuation of our many brave sisters who sacrificed their lives for the freedom and protection of Tibet.
TWA's main objective is to raise public awareness of the abuses faced by Tibetan women in Chinese-occupied Tibet. Through extensive publicity and involvement in national and international affairs, TWA alerts communities to the gender-specific human rights abuses committed against Tibetan women in the form of forced birth control policies such as sterilizations and abortions, and restrictions on religious, political, social, and cultural freedoms.
In exile, TWA places great priority on the contributions of Tibetan women towards preserving and promoting the distinct religion, culture, and identity of the Tibetan people. TWA serves the Tibetan community as a whole with activities addressing religious and cultural issues, educational needs, social welfare, the environment, and the political participation and social empowerment of women.
To best achieve our goals, TWA functions as a democratic organization. The members of the Central and the Regional Working Committees are elected by their respective members for a fixed term. The headquarters of TWA is in McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala, and it is from here that TWA issues guidelines and directives to the branch offices for the coordination of their activities.
Want to learn more about the history of women's struggles in Tibet? View Chapter One of Breaking the Shackles: 50 Years of Tibetan Women’s Struggle in PDF format (see the book synopsis here).
A map of Tibet - click to enlarge (source: Central Tibetan Administration)