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Tibetan Women Power 'Women's Business' in Tibet
2004-10-27
Although the number of shops on the street is less than 10, and the street itself is less than 100 meters long, a sense of fashion abounds here in Lhasa, the capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region.

The street, known locally as "women's street," has become an attraction for Tibetan women, some of whom have become followers of fashion.

Cosmetics stores, beauty parlors and fashionable dress shops are springing up in the city, and big department stores and supermarkets in Lhasa showcase women's fashions and cosmetics in their most eye-catching locations.

"What retailers and shops have done proves that a 'women's economy' is booming," said Ceyang, a female professor with the Tibet University and an expert on women's issues in Tibet.

Statistics show that in recent years a Tibetan woman in urban areas spends on average 800 yuan or more each year on cosmetics, approximately half the monthly salary for a government worker in Lhasa.

Ceyang said Tibetan women are becoming more economically independent than ever before. Over the past five decades, the government has made "painstaking efforts" to upgrade women's living conditions and increase their work opportunities.

More education means more jobs for Tibetan women. The government made special efforts to raise women's education and economic status. In schools, 43 percent of students are girls and the illiteracy rate among women has fallen dramatically since 1995.

Statistics released in March by the government of the Tibet Autonomous Region show that eight percent of all the leaders of the regional government are women, and approximately 30 percent ofgovernment officials at all levels are women.

A government report on Tibetan women's issues showed that over the past five-year period, more than 110,000 Tibetan women have learnt work skills, and professional women now account for 43 percent of the region's total.

A "working class" of Tibetan women is growing, with stronger purchasing power to buy clothes and cosmetics to look as modern and fashionable as people outside the region, said Ceyang.

In old Tibet, both women and men wore long hair braided into a big pigtail and wrapped on top of the head. They never cut their hair from the time they were born.

But with much easier access to modern society, shorter hair hascome into vogue in Tibet. An increasing number of young men and women often dye their hair and follow the fashions of pop film stars and singers.

"I deeply admire and envy today's girls wearing bobbed hair, which looks neat and tidy and is very easy to look after," said Zhaxi Zholma, a 65-year-old lady.

More than 500 beauty parlors line the streets of Lhasa. A young Tibetan woman said she was particular about her hair fashion and had spent approximately 1,000 yuan (some 120 US dollars) on her hair every year.

Benba, a noted research fellow at the Tibet Regional Academy ofSocial Sciences, said Tibetan women's spending on hairstyle was indicative of social change and a rise in income.

"It's a sign that Tibet is on the way to becoming a civilized modern society."

According to Prof. Ceyang, a prosperous "women's economy" is evidence of social progress in Tibet. She said Tibetan women used to live at the bottom of society, and were suppressed by discriminating customs and traditional prejudice. Now Tibetan women not only enjoy equal rights as men, but have also become a pillar force in social and economic development, she said.

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