Winter that Empowers!

Thinles Norboo
The theme for this year’s Women’s Day celebration was ‘Each for Equality’ and on the occasion, UN women launched a multi-generational campaign – “Generation Equality: Realizing women’s rights for an equal future”. The year-long campaign aims at bringing together the next generations of women’s rights activists with the gender equality advocates and visionaries who were instrumental in creating the Beijing Platform for Action more than two decades ago. The intention is that “collectively, these change makers of all ages and genders can tackle the unfinished business of empowering women through this new, groundbreaking, multigenerational campaign”.
One message that is clear from the campaign is that it is important to bring people from multiple generations to ensure transformation. It is important to create an understanding at a multi-generational level to ensure that the struggles, challenges, strategies and learnings are shared. In India’s northernmost Union Territory of Ladakh, women for several generations have been following this path – where they have played an instrumental role in sharing their strength with the next generation. And what is more intriguing is the way this has been going on for decades now – in winters!
For almost six months, Ladakh hibernates. It is during this time that women come together and share with each other their talents, learnings, stories of courage and traditions. The onus of preserving the rich culture and heritage of Ladakh has always been on its women. Winter is the time when they utilize their skills and create hand-crafted products that not only help their families and relatives survive the harsh, cold environment but also gives them a chance to earn some money.
This is the time when the entire family sits together, shares stories and women can be seen weaving magic through their traditional skills. “I have a keen inclination towards art and craft. This winter, I have learnt weaving from my elders. Besides, I have a special love for knitting. It is during winter that I get enough time to explore my talent. I try experimenting with new designs and when my work receives the appreciation from others – it motivates me to create more!” shared Yangdol.
Though many have been trying to learn the traditional skills since their childhood, it takes years of practice to excel. While talking about her struggle to learn the art, Dechan Spaldon from Tukla village shared that when she weaved for the first time – she couldn’t get it. She would sit silently besides her elders and would observe them for hours. She understood the equipment used, how elders weaved and gained expertise in it. Today, she can weave 7 sets of carpets every winter.
“Winter made me realize that I have a special talent that needs my 100 percent attention. Earlier, people did not realize the value of our own hand made carpets but now they are charmed over by the indigenous and local products. It is crucial for the young generation to learn about our traditional craft skills,” shared DechanSpaldon.
Spalzes Angmo – a 35 year old representative of the Oriental Craft – a village based enterprise from Chumathang shares that over the years, Ladakhi women have taken time out from their schedule to do things that they really love and have passion for. Weaving and knitting not only allows them to earn money but has contributed to their independence. During winter, there is no field work, so women have time to come together and create new handcrafted products that are later sold to the tourists in the summer season. This way the Ladakhi women are generating new avenues for their future generation as well.
Other than handicrafts, Ladakhi women also focus on winter sports. For example, the game of Ice Hockey that dates back to the early 1970’s, is quite famous among Ladakhi girls. According to SkalzangPutit, Founder of Ladakh Women Ice Hockey Foundation (LWIHF), training camps are conducted every winter and the response is overwhelming. “Because of this winter sport, hundreds of girls from Ladakh, especially the girls from remote regions likeLingshat, Photoksar, and Changthang have received great exposure. It really helps them utilize their long winter vacations and develop skills using expertise of women ice hockey players. Many girls define it as a life-changing opportunity!” shared a proud SkalzangPutit.
Winter season is utilized by Ladakhi women not only to indulge in activities that they love but to share their talent with the next generation. They learnt from their elders, created new avenues and are now empowering the younger ones who will take it forward in a more productive manner – beyond winters!
(Charkha Features)