On March 10th, 1959, an estimated 300,000 Tibetans surrounded the palace of the Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of Tibet, amid rising fears that occupying Chinese forces planned to abduct him. In the brutal crackdown that followed, Chinese soldiers killed an estimated 86,000 Tibetans, many of them unarmed Buddhist monks and nuns. Seven days later, the Dalai Lama escaped to India, establishing the Tibetan government in exile, still functioning today.
What many don't know is that on March 12th, as part of that historic and painful week, thousands of Tibetan women staged their own protest in front of the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet. The Chinese imprisoned the leaders of this non-violent demonstration, and many died of beatings in prison, while others were simply never heard from again. From that point forward, Tibetan women's groups in exile in India honored the women who participated in this event on March 12th, in addition to National Uprising Day on March 10th.
Nowadays, many of these activities are organized by the Tibetan Women's Association, which was officially sanctioned by the Dalai Lama in 1984. This organization, which considers March 12th, 1959 to be its true founding date, now has thousands of members and 47 branches worldwide, including in India, Nepal, Europe, Japan, the U.S., and Canada. The TWA supports the Tibetan exile community, particularly women, with projects in the areas of religion, culture, education, social welfare, political affairs, and the environment.
The TWA works to create awareness of the specific suffering of women still in Tibet under Chinese rule. It also works to assist Tibetan women in exile and - like the Dalai Lama - places a strong emphasis on education, including offering scholarships to many young girls. Because Buddhism is so intrinsic to Tibetan life and culture, the TWA is also dedicated to supporting religious organizations and maintaining the Buddhist nunnery tradition, assisting in the founding of ten Buddhist nunneries in exile, and managing three of these.
Another unique program originally begun by TWA is the Tibetan Nuns Project, which provides education and humanitarian aid to Tibetan Buddhist nuns living in exile around the world. The project began in 1987, when 66 refugee nuns arrived in Dharamsala, India after surviving a two-year trek to escape from occupied Tibet, including traveling over the Himalayas. Exhausted, sick and penniless, these nuns had no means for survival, and the TWA stepped in to help. In addition to helping the nuns with material needs, the Tibetan Nuns Project focuses on the larger goals of raising the status of ordained Buddhist women worldwide, and encouraging them to take on leadership roles within their communities.