Gender equality campaigners have criticised the Dalai Lama for his suggestion that any potential female successor to his role “must be very, very, attractive”. In an interview, the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists said there was no reason why a future Dalai Lama could not be a woman — but she would have to be good looking otherwise she would be “not much use”.
The 80-year-old’s remarks — which he made in an interview with the BBC reporter Clive Myrie, as he talked of succession, or reincarnation — provoked accusations of sexism that look set to plague the remainder of his tour of the UK, which began on September 14.
Since 1959, the Dalai Lama has lived in exile in Dharamsala, northern India. For about 300 years the Dalai Lamas, or their regents, have led the Tibetan government, but China has occupied Tibet since 1950 and has long insisted it will appoint any successor to the post.
The present, 14th Dalai Lama, whose original name was altered to Tenzin Gyatso, said his institution would continue only if it were the choice of the people of Tibet. Asked if the next “incarnation” could be female, he answered, “Yes!”
Both men laughed at the comment, which seemed at first to come off as a clumsy joke, and Myrie gave the Dalai Lama a chance to clarify his statement. The reporter asked whether he meant a female Dalai Lama would be very attractive? “I mean, if female Dalai Lama come, then that female must be very attractive,” the Dalai Lama said. “Otherwise not much use.” Myrie said: “Really? You’re joking.” Gyatso replied: “No, true!”
Women’s equality campaigners said the Dalai Lama’s remarks, apparent in the interview posted online on Monday, were disappointing.
Vivienne Hayes, CEO of the Women’s Resource Centre, which campaigns widely on women’s inequality, said: “It’s disappointing that any woman’s ability to take on a leadership role should be determined by her appearance. This seems to be a common obsession across the media, given some of the comments about women in politics. We are concerned that society is in fact going backwards in terms of women’s equality, and will keep tirelessly campaigning against this.”
Nicole Rowe, spokeswoman for Progressive Women, a charity that seeks to empower women in their professional and personal lives, said: “While we’re pleased to hear the Dalai Lama is in favour of the possibility of a female Dalai Lama, we’re surprised and greatly disappointed that a man of such compassion and wisdom could express such a retrograde opinion.
“Perpetuating the antiquated idea that women are primarily useful as ornaments, as in the parlance ‘Women should be seen but not heard’, only adds fuel to the manifold discrimination women still face to this day. A woman’s appearance is not more important than her achievements. If a woman were to become Dalai Lama, we’re certain that her actions would be of much more weight than how she looked, and we hope the Dalai Lama will take the time to reflect on the impact of his words for women, particularly given the scale of his influence.”
But other prominent equality groups and campaigners chose not to comment on what they saw as a tongue-in-cheek remark by the Dalai Lama. Among them was Caroline Criado-Perez, the journalist and broadcaster, who has campaigned for British banknotes to carry more illustrations of women. Replying to a request for comment on the controversy, she tweeted: “Is ‘lol’ appropriate?” – By Damien Gayle
Image – Dalai Lama (Reuters)