The Unfailing Womb

I remember I was 15 years old when I came across a story about a famous super model, who suffered the atrocity of female circumcision in her community. The graphic details of her ordeal of her circumcision, where the clitoris was sliced off and the labia exterior were stitched together was hair-raising to say the least.  She described how a simple act of urinating was a physical torture, as the acid from the urine stung the exposed skin and how she was laid to rest in a dark room for weeks. I couldn’t imagine how parents could consent to their daughters being tortured on the basis of mindset. The most horrific aspect of this story was that it wasn’t an isolated case, and almost every young girl, coming of age, in Africa were forced into female genital cutting. The practice of female circumcision has mostly been done to reduce the likelihood of pleasure or orgasm in young girls and women. At fifteen elsewhere in the world, I had come of age.

I was 17 years old, when I first watched a program about how one prince’s fetish for small feet during the Sung Dynasty led to the practice of foot binding among young Chinese girls, for over a thousand years. The tradition dictated girls, as young as 3 years old, to bind their feet to keep them small and beautiful. The process meant the girl’s foot would be washed, massaged, and their toes broken (except the big toes) and pressed towards the sole of the foot. The arches of the heel (below the ankle) would be broken to pull the feet straight into the leg and bound tightly by cloth bandages from toe to ankle to hold the toes in place.

The purpose behind this practice was to identify women of high- class and to keep them from ‘wandering’; the intense pain kept women under control. This led to highly deformed feet, but a woman couldn’t expect to find a good match without the ‘lily feet’. At seventeen, I was dark, plump and my face resembled a pimple city. My feet were the least of my concerns.

In the third year of college, my Indian classmates were discussing ‘shaadi’, ‘rishtay’, and dowry; how for most of them education in good colleges was a passport to good marriage proposals. I remember sitting with a group of girls and they were foretelling which one of them might receive good proposals. It was damning everyone chose the fairest girl to get the best proposals; and more so that they took to the idea of ‘dowry’ as most natural. In the third year of college, I was darker still, plumper and had no desires of being ‘bartered’ as a commodity. I can most assuredly proclaim that my parents wouldn’t have been troubled for having 3 daughters and no son.

Now, I am a single working woman; my focus so far on growing as a person, as I saw fit. I have lived life on my terms; made some mistakes but was supported throughout by family and friends. It just dawned to me that all my life, I have never once wished I was born a man. I enjoy being a woman too much to do that.

There is a deeper sense of appreciation for my life, when I realize it is by virtue of karma that I am born in Bhutan, where life is easy on women. It takes a woman to know the plights of women all around the world. Every day we are bombarded by news of girls and women being sold off as commodities, assaulted, tortured, raped and murdered. To this day, in places across the world the practice of stoning women, female infanticide, and child marriages still continue. There is a sense of lawlessness and bewilderment when bride kidnapping are still practiced in Africa and Eastern Europe.

As I see it, there are two kinds of atrocities; atrocities against culture, race, religion, politics, etc, and then there are atrocities against women. Every recorded history traces the struggle of communities on every aspect of evolution or development. Yet, each of these struggles has a parallel history of struggle by women for women.  From where I am sitting now, it’s easy to list out the struggles of women, but every success would have been a culmination of frustration, sacrifice, determination and collective will power to prove otherwise. The rights to vote, education, equality, opportunity, choice, etc are hard and difficult journeys by women all over the world.

A Bhutanese woman’s life is no more difficult or easier than women all around the world. We have our daily struggles of being the co-earner, cook, wife, mother, daughter,  sister or girlfriend, but we have been spared the struggle against perverse practices, atrocities of tradition and culture.  Infact, when I look at history of women in Bhutan; we have enjoyed a matrilineal system of inheritance- due to which, it was commonplace to find most women as heads of families, a strong authority in decision making, an equal worker and contributor as a man, etc. We have had equal opportunities to education, medical facilities, opportunities, and wealth. The numerous roles of women does limit the utilization of certain professional opportunities and are required to  sacrifice, but this is left to personal choices. As far as social standing is concerned, we are at par with men.

However, this does not remove issues of stereotyping. Stereotyping exists in every community, but here it’s not given the status of law. There are conflicting issues on religious status of women; as per Buddhism, women are considered lesser beings and certain areas in lhakhangs/temples ( like the goenkha) do not allow women. This is a sore topic for most women, but my interpretation is we live our lives on the streets, in our homes and with our families and not in the goenkha.  Where it counts, we have prospered as well as any Bhutanese man. It is good to note here that in some cultures, the goddess and women are glorified in temples and tales, but not so much beyond.

A Bhutanese woman can choose any life she saw fit.  Dress anyhow and behaved any way she saw fit. Marry, divorce, remarry or remain single as she saw fit. She can decide to study, choose any career, or follow any outlandish dreams. There are no labels or pre-requisites to being a successful woman, like in some cultures; where women with good looks, fair skin, long neck, small feet, tiny waist, voluptuous hips, long hair, sweet voice, etc. are profiled to do better in life.

Don’t get me wrong, these attributes are always nice to possess and have its advantages, but at the end of the day personal character is still the basis of success- as should be. Personal choice has been the order of the day in Bhutan.  Society, as proven throughout the ages, will only dictate, but in Bhutan it has been left to the individual to decide to what degree it should.

So, when I look at a Bhutanese woman in 2010, I see a woman who is confident, compassionate and convinced of her purpose in life. A woman who has by virtue of being Bhutanese always garnered the support of her loved ones, in times thick and thin. It is a delight being a woman and living life on my terms. It’s a relief to dress exactly the way I want; I appreciated this fact after traveling to the Middle East, where I had tc consciously plan to wear nothing snug, and witnessed beautiful women behind burkah. I ended my entire stay in Yemen is a man’s fleece coat, borrowed from a colleague. The fear of being stoned and spat in public was real, and for the first time I was scared.

I can only begin to understand the emotional, psychological and cultural strain of decisions by women from other countries and communities. The process of conforming to dictates can only be fathomed by how society values these dictates, to that of human life. Bhutanese should be grateful; no social conditions override human existence.

There is a general sense of tolerance with Bhutanese and this is a virtue most cultures do not possess. It is incredible how isolated our country has been till the 1960s. And then from it, emerged a society so liberal, so kind and so enduring to nature and the ‘womb’. For this reason, I am blessed to be a woman in Bhutan; a woman, who need not look a certain way, have a certain shade or behave a certain way to thrive in life.

Every Bhutanese woman is as assured as she is accomplished. For this assuredness and accomplishments, we have ourselves and then our men to thank. I believe it takes two to sing a beautiful duet; just goes to show it takes confident men to allow confidence in women.

For a small minuscule country, I say we set pretty progressive examples for the world.

(**This article was written for the September Edition of DRUKPA magazine, 2010)


  1. then i believe i have come to the right place!!!
    Thought provoking. Really good Karma!!!

  2. Really thought provoking. Great to have come across your blog.


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