On Monday, February 6th, India native Thinlas Chorol, an entrepreneur and advocate for women’s rights, visited Bates to present her work. The talk was entitled “Women in Ladakh, India: Observations and Reflections.”
Chorol began her presentation with information on Ladakh, the mountainous region in Northern India in which she resides, where the population is about 250,000 and many of the inhabitants are Buddhists or those of Tibetan descent. She emphasized that Ladakh is “very different from other parts of India,” in terms of such factors as culture, climate, and religion.
Chorol grew up in a remote village in Ladakh and from a young age, her dream was to become a trekking guide: someone who leads other people on expeditions through mountains. However, this is a field dominated by men, and thus, she was rejected at first. Nevertheless, despite her initial setbacks, Chorol was determined to realize her dream and she ultimately became a guide.
However, her journey did not stop there. Chorol wanted to encourage other women to become guides as well and thus founded the Ladakhi Women’s Travel Company–an organization completely owned and operated by Ladakhi women. These women guide anyone through the mountains from individuals to families to student groups.
The company specializes in organizing “homestay treks.” Aside from the cross-cultural exchanges that this experience fosters, the homes in which one stays are always run by women, as men seek employment outside of the home or even outside of the villages in which they reside. Thus, local, rural women are able to earn income and thus have more freedom independent of their husbands. In the words of Chorol, she “helps the women achieve the same status as the men.”
Chorol goes on to discuss the gender roles that have historically been perpetuated in Ladakh and throughout other parts of India–an aspect of Indian culture she is focused on combatting.
For a long time, girls were not allowed to attend school because they were “needed” to help out at home. Only boys went to school in order to become income-generating husbands in the future. Although now mandatory schooling for girls in rural areas has been instituted, many do not graduate. They instead get married or have children at young ages and many do not have job opportunities, whether they want them or not, outside of farming, cleaning, cooking, and taking care of their children.
Outside of the limited opportunities for women, Chorol also discussed other gender inequalities. Ladakhi women are not allowed to plough fields, to enter certain monasteries, or to become village leaders. Chorol added that if a women is sexually harassed, she tends not to report the incidents, as it is the norm to wrongfully blame the women involved.
Chorol further explains that Ladakhi women are reluctant to empower themselves through involvement in politics, as they already have a large number of responsibilities and in the past election, not one of the few women who ran were elected as representatives.
To combat some of these issues, Chorol founded the Ladakhi Women’s Welfare Network in 2012. The Network helps women suffering from sexual violence or domestic abuse, and any other issue they may be struggling with. The organization is currently working on 3 or 4 court cases and has already created the holiday, Women’s Day. Chorol’s future plans include educating Ladakhi women about their rights as well as leading sexual education classes.
When asked about opposition to her women’s empowerment movement and educational initiatives, she replied that there has not been much. Although it may seem very unequal in terms of gender, Chorol emphasizes that Ladakh is more progressive than other parts of India.
For example, in Ladakh there is no dowry system–the custom of the bride’s family giving goods, property or money to the groom’s family in exchange for her hand in marriage. Furthermore, In Ladakh, when females are born, the birth is as equally celebrated as births of males are. This is not necessarily the case elsewhere. The sole act of opposition to her movements that Chorol mentioned was when posters advertising the Women’s Welfare Network that she had put up in a local market, were removed.
Thinlas Chorol has accomplished much in only her 35 years of life and continues to combat gender inequality and to fight for the women of Ladakh, one trek at a time.