Gender and Medicine in Kham: An Analysis of the Medical Work and Life of Derge Phurpa Dolma

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This article outlines aspects of the life of Phurpa Dolma (Phur ba sgrol ma, b. 1931) from Derge in Kham, eastern Tibet, who worked as a practitioner of Tibetan medicine. Based on interviews with her I will explore and analyse her experiences and prospects as a physician and compare her situation with extant life writings by and on other female doctors, including Khandro Yangga (mKha’ ’gro dbyangs dga’, 1907-1973), Lobsang Dolma (bLo bzang sgrol ma, 1935-1989) and Jetsunma Do Dasel Wangmo (mDo Zla gsal dbang mo, b. 1928). Based on such works and considering women’s position and situation in other domains of socio-cultural life in Tibet, Gyatso and Havnevik have suggested that perhaps medicine, at least in the modern period, has fostered more of a non-gendered meritocracy than other areas of learning and science in Tibet, not least due to the relatively swift verifiability of its efficacy. This article engages with that proposition and offers contrasting examples. Upon a close look at the social background of the women doctors whose “success stories” have been written and given the challenges that Phurpa Dolma and other “ordinary” women doctors as householders have experienced, Tibetan medicine might after all not have been the particularly open field for women that Gyatso and Havnevik suggest.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)53-77
Number of pages25
JournalRevue d’Etudes Tibetaines
Issue numberDécembre
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2015


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