Western women can come to the rescue of the world

Originally printed in the January 25 edition of the Vancouver Sun:

At the Vancouver Peace Summit last September, the Dalai Lama said something that ricocheted around the globe. He said that he is a feminist. And he opined that Western women will save the world.

For me this conjured up an unsettling image of blond-haired, blue-eyed amazons riding to the rescue. Not quite what I would expect a figure of his stature to say. Not if his or her coterie of marketing and polling gurus could help it. But the Dalai Lama, true to form, does not pay attention to politically correct niceties. The blogosphere and Twitter went off scale. Some people loved it; not a few rolled their eyes.At the Summit, the Dalai Lama shared the stage with such remarkable women as Rev Mpho Tutu, Mairead Maguire, Mary Robinson, Betty Williams, Jody Williams and Karen Armstrong

Perhaps the Dalai Lama was moved to make this remark because he was in the company of some very impressive Western women, women who have devoted their lives to helping the downtrodden.

There were, of course, the three Nobel peace laureates: Mairead Maguire, Jody Williams and Betty Williams. But also at the table was Mary Robinson, most beloved of all Irish presidents and a tireless human rights activist. Susan Davis was there too. Her humanitarian work has impacted the lives of millions in Haiti, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and several African countries.

Abigail Disney presented her widely praised film, Pray the Devil Back to Hell, which tells the story of a group of determined Liberian women who ousted dictator Charles Taylor and installed Africa's first female president. Both Disney and Swanee Hunt, another panellist, have made significant contributions to turning that small country around.

The Dalai Lama, like his great friend Archbishop Desmond Tutu, does not mince words when it comes to women. He has said on numerous occasions that he inherited his prodigious compassion from his mother. He believes that women, with their nurturing instinct, are naturally more compassionate. He wants to see more female ministers of defence, and is delighted that Spain has one. If wars are a fact of life, then it would be better if women were in charge, according to him, since they are more likely to empathize with those who suffer during conflicts.

The Dalai Lama was also captivated by what Fazle Hasan Abed, a male of the species, had to say about women and the role they have played in his decades-long effort to alleviate suffering in the developing world.

Abed is not quite a household name, although he will soon receive a knighthood from the Queen, the first Bangladeshi to receive this honour since 1943. His organization, BRAC, delivers education, health care and microfinance to millions of people in Asia and Africa. With an annual budget in excess of $1 billion, BRAC has given $6 billion in small loans to women.

Why women, the Dalai Lama wanted to know. Abed understands from experience that they pose a low credit risk. And more importantly, as study after study shows, they tend to reinvest their profits in family and community. Abed believes that girls and women represent the greatest untapped resources of the developing world, that they are the key to solving some of its most pressing challenges.

Also at the summit were Vancouver's Frank Giustra, Peter Buffett of Novo Foundation and Pierre and Pam Omidyar of eBay. These new (and youngish) philanthropists have poured millions into innovative, metrics-oriented development projects in Africa and elsewhere. Like Abed, they focus on helping girls and women. And their examples have inspired other funders to be more innovative and entrepreneurial in their approach to giving.

These summit participants came to Vancouver because of the Dalai Lama. They made the trip for that rare opportunity to share stories, exchange ideas, and learn from him. Implicit in their participation is their hope that they will be inspired by him to do more for, or at least not lose faith in, the people at the bottom of the pyramid.

The Vancouver Peace Summit was a four-day affair. More than 24,000 people attended events in the city. Many more read about it in The Vancouver Sun; the Dalai Lama guest-editing a special Saturday edition. CTV sent 30,000 live video-streams about the dialogues across Canada, many of them watched by entire classes in schools and by community gatherings.

I'd like to believe that the Dalai Lama has made an impact and created some ripples, here and elsewhere, not only now but for years to come. And judging by his enthusiastic response to Abed and others at the Summit, I wouldn't be surprised if one day he declares that women -- not just Western women -will save the world.

Victor Chan co-authored The Wisdom of Forgiveness: Intimate Conversations and Journeys with the Dalai Lama. He also cofounded with him the Dalai Lama Centre for Peace and Education in Vancouver.


why western women will save the world

What western women have is their economic, sexual and reproductive freedom, especially the most powerful women in the world those who grew up after world war two and are now at their spiritual and sexual peak, the crone goddesses of the baby boom generation.


We must learn from their example.  Women who grew up with economic , sexual and reproductive freedom did not make more than 2.2 children , or replacement value.  That is why the population in Western Europe and the USA  without immigrants is so stable or decreasing.


If we pay young girls from age 14 to 23 to take birth control, especially in the impoverished third world where women who are controlled by men have 12 to 15 babies in their life, we will stop the overpopulation train that is the greatest threat to human life and our planet.

By having crones or post menopausal women make the decisions of the world instead of having impotent old men sending virile young men to their death and dismemberment in war, we will bring mercy to conflict and end war.


love and light,



It's interesting...

When women are put in the spotlight as people who have a value and voice that is - not greater than men - but different, important, but through much of history...mufflied, men (as cited in the above article) sometimes have a difficult time sharing the limelight.  Values of compassion, kindness, cooperation, and equanimity have been (if one is looking at group data distributions) more in the camp of Western women than Western men, and it is exciting that these values are receiving more attention.  These are the values that will prevent humankind from destroying him/herself in a competitive frenzy.  

I feel sad that the author disrespectfully states that the Dalai Lama's comment was "not quite what I would expect a figure of his stature to say."  I am glad that the Dalai Lama sees the wisdom in Western women - and I seriously doubt that he had a picture of blue-eyed, blonde "amazons" bounding to the rescue.  This appears to be a product of the author's vivid imagination.

To each of the people who rolled his/her eyes (and I doubt it is as many as this article would suggest)... perhaps such eye-rolling could be a focus of investigation in your meditation practice.


Michele Ries


it seems obvious that His

it seems obvious that His Holiness chose to say "Western Women" because the Western world is one where women have made enormous progress towards equality and already have the opportunity to help others on a global scale. Women in the west don't face the obstacles of cultural (often violent) oppression and even rigid traditional women's roles the way that women in other parts of the world still do. No doubt this comment was a reflection on these distinctions, progress and the freedom they have earned the "Western Woman." Certainly more freedom to act results in a greater ability to act and effectiveness of action, so His Holiness' comment makes perfect sense. 

It also seems obvious that this comment was neither racially nor ethnically specific as much as it was culturally specific. After all, not only the blue eyed blonde gets to vote or attend university here in America. Also, I certainly don't think this comment excludes the possiblity of great global action by women in any other part of the world, it merely acknowledges that it is culturally much more difficult for those women as a general rule and that the historically the women's movement began in the West.

Lastly, who cares who saves the world as long as somebody finally gets around to it?

Life Itself

 I am a Canadian Woman, born and raised. 

I have brown hair and brown eyes and every day I have been grateful for my freedom in every respect. My only struggles in life have been that the Canadian masses disillusionment in stooping to levels which don't honour the values of most Canadians. We are a big country but half of us grow up in small towns and yet it doesn't stop us from realizing our own power to change the world. Why do we speak of blue eyes and blond hair? We are a multicultural country, women included, no doubt a man (the Dalai Lama) from the realms of a country which has been controlled and dominated by the Chinese would know something about oppression, equality and power. Feminism is not a movement, it became one, but the original meaning of the word means 'equality'. We are the ones who give birth to the men. We are the ones who give birth, give life, so please give some respect and credit to who a woman is, and why she ahould be supported like any other human on this planet who gives life. I myself don't have children but look upon all children as my own... as the world becomes more populated, I have wished great assurance before receiving this gift and I am blessed I have this choice!

Funny notions of "the end of the world" have swept across our minds, mostly due to our fear-based media. I believe these notions are for the very reason to wake those up to realize, this is not a rehearsal, we need to go beyond competition, causing harm, starting wars, and watching those suffer meedlessly, it is time to act upon the bigger picture.. life itself.

is the world even ours to save?

I admire the Dalai Lamas work in bringing to light the importance of putting an end to the marginalisation of women. I agree too that western women are fortunate to have a sociopolitical history that facilitates them being able to take lead roles in this mission.

What frightens me, though, is that in the pursuit of equal rights we forget that the glory of the world lies in diversity; diversity of cultures, languages, structures, functions... An investigation of the natural world (forgive me, i'm a scientist) reveals that the healthy functioning of natural systems relies on a unity that lies in their diversity- hence the very real danger of biodiversity loss. Human societies are also such natural systems, and in the conversation regarding preferred futures and what actions to take to achieve them (i believe we call this conversation "sustainability"), we tend to forget that men and women are not the same, not in biological terms. If you imagine the entirety of human history unfolding over a 70 year period, a startling fact is that we spent 69 years 8 months living as small hunter-gatherer societies in savanna landscapes, and only in the last 120 days did we spread out over the world and undergo the drastic changes in our lifeway that followed the rise of agriculture... In moving toward the future, and in ensuring that we reshape our human systems to be more in accord with ecological systems, I think it's important to remember that men and women evolved to suit gender-specific roles, that certain strengths and weaknesses of our individual sexes are innate, and that (in my opinion) a divine synergy awaits the rediscovery and re-enactment of these roles.

I'm not talking about a regression to the stone age. We've always only moved forward, but it's important to remember where we came from. In 2000 we decoded the human genome; we now know that all life shares a common evolutionary history, and that a healthy ecosystem is one where ecological niche is inhabited by the organism who's genome was shaped to fit that niche. Humanity cannot escape this relationship... and so now it seems that "sustainability" means more than reorganizing our societies and creating new technical solutions to environmental and social problems; it implies that along with these changes we need to relearn now to listen to the world with humble hearts and open minds, listen to her and hope to have her help us rediscover the essence of our natural roles, and inspire faith in us that saving the world will only happen if we learn how to let the world save itself.

Somewhere along the line, perhaps following the rise of agriculture, our societies became male dominated. Humanity is like a superorganism with the mentality of the male, and many argue that both women and the environment have been marginalized as a result. It is wonderful and inspiring to see that this is changing.  But I hope that in the pursuit of happy and sustainable societies we remember that we are inseperable from fragile diversity of our surroundings, and that the glory of what men and women have the potential to create, together, will blossom from our ability to recognize our differences...

Western women can come to the rescue of the world

Let's not get hung up on the "western women" thing. To me, we're all in this together. When I first heard this statement from the Dalai Lama, after the initial elation I felt to hear such a highly respected male leader make such a statement, I thought to myself, duh, of course it will be women. We make 85% of the consumer purchases. We can rescue the world right now by what we buy – and don’t buy.

Just think of it…if we women collectively decide not to buy foods and products laden with toxic chemicals, but instead embrace wholesome foods and products already on the shelves, we can create a change of such magnitude in the marketplace that Madison Avenue will have to listen. Bye bye red dye #40, hello natural, healthful products that feed our body, mind and spirit. Thank you Dalai Lama for that statement. It’s ignited me and many others to fulfill that promise. http://womenofgreen.com/2010/09/can-western-women-save-the-world-the-dal...




Women can spread their seed too... of compassion and cooperation

re: "He believes that women, with their nurturing instinct, are naturally more compassionate." I have to agree. I also believe completely that men are fully capable of being compassionate and nurturing - but natural instincts and societal norms do not produce men who instinctively behave this way.

I do agree with the Dalai Lama's idea that the more compassionate sex, from the more empowered half of the world, could potentially right much of what is wrong in our world. However, it will take much partnership, learning and conversation with our less privileged women in the developing world for such Western women to understand exactly what is wrong, and how to address those issues, respecting local needs. Without cross-cultural communication and connection, an antagonistic world of us versus them will be perpetuated. That is where I believe women hold the power to move us towards a world where all humans care about all humans.

And ultimately, once compassionate leadership has taken some of the reins, and power and greed have slipped into second place, it will then require the men of the world to live and behave driven by the same goals. So the more young men we raise today, ready to be those men of tomorrow, and the more we all work right now to improve the lives of our fellow humans the world over, the better off we will all be, sooner.

Wear your legacy of compassion with pride, ladies!

~Stephanie T.

Post new comment