Dr. Tashi Zangmo: Educating and empowering Bhutanese women

Director of the Bhutan Nuns’ Foundation Dr. Tashi Zangmo addressed the obstacles facing Bhutanese women in a lecture in the Woolley Room in Mary Lyon Hall on Sept. 5.

The lecture was entitled “Empowering Women and Girls Through Education.” Zangmo focused specifically on Bhutanese nunneries and her organization’s efforts to enrich the lives of young women. 

While Wheaton’s connection to the current Bhutanese king has created numerous learning opportunities for female members of the Wheaton community, Bhutan continues to struggle in its efforts to provide quality education to its own women. 

As the first woman in her family to attend college, Zangmo recognized the importance of education in building a woman’s confidence. 

“I always wanted to help women because I was always obsessed with women’s education,” she said. 

Though Zangmo considered teaching early on, she found herself becoming increasingly drawn to the idea of starting a women’s college. Her research on the history of nuns’ education drove her to found the Bhutan Nuns’ Foundation in 2006.

The non-profit organization endeavors to improve the lives of women throughout the country by providing spiritual and educational training in nunneries.

Prior to Zangmo’s involvement, many of Bhutan’s nunneries struggled with low budgets, employed unqualified teachers and offered little in the way of basic necessities. Many students lacked proper sleeping quarters or study areas. 

In addition to providing women with basic training that will allow them to contribute to society and the socioeconomic development of their country, Zangmo aims to rectify some of the difficulties facing these institutions. 

With handfuls of nunneries spread across the country, the foundation has made great strides in providing quality education for women of all ages. More than just a center for education, each nunnery serves as a refuge for women running from domestic abuse or those looking to escape poor living conditions. 

The nunneries still face plenty of challenges. In many parts of the country, women are discouraged from attending school or nunneries. 

By inviting young women into nunneries, Zangmo aims to reverse this trend and liberate new nuns by teaching them how to survive on their own. 

“Like the Chinese saying: we don’t give them fish, we teach them how to fish” she said.

For Zangmo’s foundation, many goals remain, including increasing attendance at nunneries, which could help the country move in a more positive direction and out of isolation. Additionally, she hopes to teach English to the nuns and hire more qualified teachers. 

“Our goal is not to encourage everyone to become nuns[…]we want them to have a choice,” she said.

Zangmo aims to create a space where women can discover their passions and find the confidence to pursue their dreams. If, as Zangmo says, “education is the key to liberation,” the women of Bhutan are on their way to a freer, more empowered existence.  

For more information on the Bhutan Nuns’ Foundation, visit their website: