Women empowerment in Ladakh

By Rinchen Angmo Chumikchan Mar 30, 2018
Dorje Mutup, Chief Executive Councillor, Hill Council, Leh: The status of women in Ladakh is much better than in other parts of the country. Women have excelled in every field like engineering, medical and others, but it is difficult to say whether they are coming from every nook and corner of the region. 
If we talk about the education scenario, today, in Degree College Leh, there are about 11,000 students and out of that 80 per cent are girls. 
There are few families in which there are 5-6 gazetted officers. Students from families which are not financially sound can go for the industrial institute. We are providing training for aspiring electricians, plumbers, radio and television, and computer. Students can also avail of the benefits of a polytechnic as they can easily complete the three-year course without going outside Ladakh.
The status of women in Ladakhi society is comparatively better. It is women who bring change in society. The nuns of Drukpa are live examples of women empowerment. We have many examples where women are doing really good and are setting an example for others. You have girls who scaled the Mt. Everest and girls representing India in Ice Hockey at National and International level. Fortunately, in the media, most of the journalists are women. Even in Buddhism, women are highly regarded.
There are few examples in Ladakh where the head of the village are women like in Mudh and Wakha-Mulbek. 
To develop a society in the real sense, it is very important to take the women section along and they should be provided with the appropriate opportunity. Overall, there are many schemes for women and they should avail of it. A little bit of awareness is needed. 
Though the Hill Council does not have schemes and funding specifically for women but in the handloom and handicraft sector women are provided training in stitching, dyeing and carpet weaving. They are doing really well and they are economically empowered.
So far, there is a lack of participation of women in decision and policy making. When we talk about women’s participation in Panchayat elections, earlier there were 63 Panchayat halqas which have now increased to 93. I have never seen a woman Sarpanch and earlier, not even a woman panch member. But fortunately, many women have started taking part in panchayat elections and their presence is very important. When you get exposure and know about public dealing, you can contest Council election. 
There are few reasons for the lack of participation of women in decision and policy-making, say, it depends on individual interest and the society should encourage women. Women should come forward, and if you will not, then ultimately somebody else has to come and lead.
  • The role of the family is very important when it comes to encouraging women’s participation in policy and decision-making.
  • The role of the family is very important when it comes to encouraging women’s participation in policy and decision-making.
  • Women should be encouraged and should be given appropriate opportunity in every field.
  • Education is the key to empower women.
  • Awareness campaigns help women know their legal rights. 
Avny Lavasa, Deputy Commissioner: The status of women in Ladakh is relatively better than those of other places in North India because you see women working, moving around independently and freely. 
But, if we look at it closely, then there is a scope for improvement. You don’t see equality, say in ownership of land, and there are certain stereotypes of the kind of jobs that are not done by women. For instance, you will not see women driving heavy vehicles and also you will not see any female taxi drivers. There are things which are stereotyped and that has happened over decades and centuries.
When we talk about women empowerment, I feel that there are two broad aspects, one is your political representation and the second is your day-to-day freedom in making choices. So, with respect to the first, we all know that there is a long way to go. But with respect to the second, the position and the freedom enjoyed by women in Ladakh is fairly alright.  
The reason for the lack of women participation in policy and decision-making, I think, is one of social conditioning, and secondly, it is the biological factor. I don’t see there is a problem but this is how society has been conditioned for so many years. But at the same time, there are changes as there are women coming out and doing so many things. So, there is an improvement but again I feel that when it comes to a biological role, you cannot change that. In sociology, we say there is a difference between sex and gender.  Sex is the biological role that you can never change and gender is what society attributes to you. That is where we need to work on, you know breaking stereotypes, social conditioning.
In Schools also, when there’s a sports period, usually girls will sit on the side or just do skipping. They won’t go and play football or cricket and nobody expects them to.  From that level, we need to break those stereotypes. 
Women in Ladakh are doing so well and are well-educated. What I feel lacking is that women are not speaking out their minds. When they have to lead a delegation and represent a group or put forward their demand, that’s where the women voice is not as prominent as it should be. There’s no proper representation at the political level.  
Females constitute 50 per cent of the population on an average and if 50 per cent of the section of society is being discriminated against, then how can society progress? It is an indicator of how progressive and how modern you are. Modernity doesn’t mean that women should start drinking and smoking, just to emulate men. Progressive means having the freedom to make your choices in terms of your career, education, marriage and many more and that is real empowerment.  
It is not important to have women representatives to solve the issues of women. I also do not believe in the myth that only a woman can look after women’s issues and development. 
Somehow, we have this notion that only if there is a woman head or a woman elected representative, the issues of women will be looked at. I do not personally agree with that. If I am the Deputy Commissioner, am I not supposed to look at everyone’s issues, irrespective of caste, colour, gender and religion? 
So, similarly, whoever is representing, he /she should represent the entire section of the society. Sensitisation of men is equally important and without that, how can society progress?  
If the two sections of society are fighting against each other, how can you progress, especially in a family? If the conflict continues, then how can a family unit progress? There are lots of things that can be done but it takes time.
  • We are planning to organise awareness camps where we will talk about menstrual hygiene and discuss women’s issues. Once you start talking, then there are so many things that come out that are hidden like sexual harassment in the workplace. 
  • There is an increase in the voyeurism taking photos and making videos. We need to look at it. This falls under legal ambit when you have legal provisions to safeguard women.
  • Thirdly, a general level of sensitisation in society is needed but the mistake we make is when we talk about sensitisation, we only talk about women only, but isn’t it equally important to sensitise the man also? 
  • When we talk about women empowerment and the speakers, the audience and everyone is a female, then that is where we are missing the point. It should be a blend of both. 
  • We should encourage women in sports as it displays physical strength. In that arena, girls need to be encouraged.
Ishey Lamo, advocate: Women empowerment means empowering women socially, economically and politically. When we talk about social empowerment of women, it means that women should be given equal opportunity and encouragement as their male counterparts. This should start in the family. Education is important for the economic empowerment of women.  As for the political empowerment of women, if a woman has leadership qualities, then everyone should support and encourage her. A woman who is willing to work for the development of society should be given an equal opportunity. 
When we compare the status of women then and now in Ladakh, today it has improved a lot, especially in terms of female literacy rate. Earlier, due to socio-cultural conditioning and lack of awareness, duties and roles of women were decided by the society and practices like child marriage also existed.  They were confined to the four walls of the house and their first role or duty was to look after their children and household chores. 
They were not even allowed to participate wholeheartedly in village meetings, and even if they liked to participate, they just sat back and listened to what men would say, and were not given the freedom to speak, leave alone appointing women as Nambardar or the head of the village.
But with time, the literacy rate and education have improved. Now the scenario has changed and women are excelling in every field. Today in every school, the ratio is 60/40 that is 60 per cent are girls and 40 per cent boys. 
When we talk about the political representation of women in Ladakh, women are still denied the power in policy and decision-making process. Even if power is given, it is given either forcefully or half-heartedly. Women continue to face discrimination and abuse, preventing them from playing an equal role in society and in decision-making. We still can see the system of male-dominating society. 
Women are not given equal due in Panchayats, Council, and village-level, as well as the society, carries the perception that women are not capable enough. 
Today even if a woman is willing to work for the welfare of women, she cannot because she is not politically empowered. Only when women become part of the decision making, they can raise their voice on behalf of women. Like in the Hill Council, if women are neglected, she can go and raise the issue, talk about the problem and solution. A good women leader should be bold enough to raise her voice, educated and legally aware. Only then she can fight for women’s rights. 
In the context of Ladakh, if we talk about women empowerment, it’s a debatable issue. It is more than 20 years since the establishment of Hill Council, but I have not seen any elected women representative, which clearly indicates that women are not politically empowered. When we talk about economic empowerment, there is still room for improvement. Many women are denied education in far-flung areas. 
We cannot blame society as a whole, and women who have leadership skills and the passion to work for the welfare of society should come forward. 
To create the platform for women, Panchayat election is the first step and then one can go for Hill Council and then to state and national level. Everyone should encourage their participation. Women should create a platform for themselves and one should start grooming oneself from the school level. They should avail of every opportunity. 
It is very important to have women representatives to raise issues of women as women can understand them more. She can approach and share their problems easily.
  • Women should be aware of their legal rights and constitutional rights.
  • To provide equal opportunity to women.
  • We should identify capable and talented women and then support and encourage them.
  • Caring for women’s well-being a must.
  • Political representation is important to strengthen women empowerment.