“Only a few years ago women were considered backward and ignorant. Now we’re respected as one of the most influential voices in Ladakh.”
~ Dolma Tsering, member of WAL ~
As in other parts of the world, the new economic pressures in Ladakh have marginalised women, who tend to be left behind on the farm as men and young people flock to the city in search of jobs and schooling. Women’s decision-making power decreases while their work load increases.
In 1994, Local Futures helped to establish the Women’s Alliance of Ladakh (WAL), with the twin goals of raising the status of rural women and strengthening local culture and agriculture. Since then, WAL’s membership has swelled to over 6,000 women from almost 100 different villages.
The Alliance’s work covers a wide range:
- Annual festivals celebrating local knowledge and skills, including traditional spinning, weaving and dyeing and the preparation of indigenous food;
- Regular ‘clean-up’ campaigns aimed at encouraging community responsibility for the environment. (In 1998, WAL succeeded in banning the use of plastic bags in Leh);
- Awareness-raising programmes – like their successful ‘No TV’ weeks – aimed at resisting the worst elements of non-Ladakhi culture;
- Setting up handicrafts co-operatives and training centres in villages throughout the region, giving farming families the ability to earn a cash income without having to leave the land. The crafts are sold during the summer season to foreign tourists.