Paulo Freire, Oppression and Conscientization

Paulo Reglus Neves Freire was a Brazilian educator and deemed by some to be the most important educator of the second half of the twentieth century(Carnoy 2004). Freire was the leading voice in the critical pedagogy theory and thus wrote Pedagogy of the Oppressed, believed to be the founding text of the critical pedagogy movement. Freire was born to a relatively wealthy middle-class family in Brazil who then suffered during the great depression resulting in Freire experiencing the life of the poor.  Freire did not do well in school, nor did many of the poorer children who came to be his close companions; this was due to their hunger and social situation as Freire stated ” “I didn’t understand anything because of my hunger. I wasn’t dumb. It wasn’t lack of interest. My social condition didn’t allow me to have an education”(Stevens, no date). Many believe these early scenarios are what led Freire on his lifelong conquest to aid the poorest in society. After his family had their fortune back, Freire enrolled into law school and also studied phenology and language psychology. For the next few years Freire worked as a lecturer and attained many high ranking positions at various universities; he was imprisoned as a traitor during the 1964 military coup as he was believed to be a traitor. After being released he worked in Chile and published Education as the Practice of Freedom which was his first book. He was then offered a visiting professorship at Harvard. The next year Pedagogy of the Oppressed was released,although it took some years to be translated due to political feuds. After working in The USA and Switzerland, he eventually moved with his wife to Sao Paulo where he died in 1997 due to heart failure.

Oppression was believed to be Freires most contested social issue. Oppression is a constant and ever evolving struggle between those with power and those without it, between the oppressed and the oppressor. We all belong to one of these groups at certain points in our lives. There are numerous categories which can form our varying forms of as oppressor/oppressed such as: social class, gender, sexual orientation, age, sex and so on. Sometimes people use these categories as a mode to vent their own prejudiced ideologies, for example, someone of a particular race may steal from them, they then, in turn, may view all people from that race as thieves. This can also be seen the other way around  where dominant groups may be victimized such as if a woman suffered some form of domestic abuse they may them blame all men. Both forms of mistreatment may hurt individuals equally case by case but mistreatment by women is systematic and socially accepted so the context within the mistreatment really makes a big difference (Sean Ruth 2006).Oppression is a word which people hear and often think of an authoritarian regime bent on totalitarianism. This is not always the case as Sean Ruth defines oppression as “where people do not get equal treatment or do not get treated with respect because they belong to a certain group or category of people”(Sean Ruth 2006). Oppression is a systematic process; it is not random. Many people internalize oppression, if someone is told something for long enough, they start to believe it. If someone Is told that they are stupid or ugly for long enough, then they begin to see it as fact.

Conscientization is defined by Ledwith as “the process whereby people become aware of the political, socioeconomic and cultural contradictions that interact in a hegemonic way to diminish their lives” (Ledwith 2005). Conscientisation means developing a critical consciousness which is pivotal to perceive social, political, and economic oppression and to take action against the oppressive elements of society.(Hermes press, no date). Conscientisation can result in collective action, or can even be applied individually to encourage critical analysis, metacognition and perhaps also to let go of long-held and oppressive worldviews.

 

 

Freire believed that the key to attaining conscientisation was through liberating and radical education, one such mode could be culture circles. This is a more informal teaching methodology where the focus is on group discussion and participation as opposed to an alienating syllabus. This is a form of liberating education.

 

 

Freire saw two perspectives two education. Firstly there was the banking approach where the student is seen as an empty account merely waiting to be filled by the teacher; this results in the students simply being receiving objects and little more. This keeps things as they are and educates individuals to fit into society. Secondly, there was the liberating approach; this can be implemented through methods such as culture circles. This allows both teachers and students to be co-learners where relevant knowledge can be sought together. Students are left with critical knowledge in a way that the banking approach to education could never provide. This results in the transformation of the status quo entirely. (Hope and Timmel 1995)

Freires concepts of oppression and conscientization have always impressed me and are most relevant in our current narcissistic era. In our current societies, we aspire to be cool, illiterate, egotistical and violent individuals. Not to seem like a political nihilist but we truly are victims of our past and upbringing, and that is why we do what we do now, we have little control. We have lost the knowledge of how precious real human liberty is. This is because our education systems have and are continuing to create a whole generation of distracted people. In Frieres own words:

“Who are better prepared than the oppressed to understand the terrible significance of an oppressive society? Who suffer the effects of oppression more than the oppressed? Who can better understand the necessity of liberation? They will not gain this liberation by chance but through the praxis of their quest for it, through their recognition of the necessity to fight for it. And this fight, because of the purpose given it by the oppressed, will actually constitute an act of love opposing the lovelessness which lies at the heart of the oppressors’ violence, lovelessness even when clothed in false generosity.”(Friere 1968)

 

 

 

 

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The Chars, Bandgladesh

Bangladesh is known as one of the poorest and most disaster-prone countries in the world. Around 50% of the population of 26 million people are poor, and of these 23% are deemed ‘extreme poor’ and 20 % labeled as the poor of tomorrow, where if current trends continue they will also fall into poverty(Rahman 1998). The riverine sand and silt landmasses in Bangladesh are known as the Chars in Bengali and are home to some of the poorest people in the country. The chars are relatively new and are created by constant changing, flooding and eroding rivers. The Chars can be found along the banks of most major rivers such as the Ganges-Padma and the Meghna,; they can also be found as standalone islands. The people living in the Chars face flooding and erosion which in turn has led to a number of other difficulties. The scale of erosion is vast with thousands of kilometers of riverbanks being lost every year. The Kurigram district is the point where the  Brahmaputra river enters Bangladesh from India. The Kurigram district hosts a significant number of Chars, and the people here suffer most from erosion and floods. It could be said that the people in the Kurigram district live in one of the poorest districts of one of the poorest districts of the world. (Sorensen, D.1994)

 

There are a number of relatively well organized informal structures based in the Chars.  These include formal government institutions, informal social organizations as well as a number of NGO’s.  There are very few formal government offices in Kurigram with no office government department dedicated to the Chars. What small number of government offices are there, are slow to process anything as they must follow central protocol and overcome beurocratic hurdles. They are  inadequately equipped and underfunded,further increasing peoples mistrust in them.  The government offices also suffer from severe understaffing as there are few amenities and little infrastructure resulting in many government officials opting to work elsewhere. (Nandi 2000). This does not apply to the Union Parishad however.  The Union Parishad is a very low form of formal government, yet they are trusted by the people as the Union Parishad often works through local informal structures such as the Samaj and the Shalish. The Union Parishad is comprised of individuals voted in from the ward-level , and at least 3 of them must be women.

 

The Samaj is found in all villages in the Chars; they are a very powerful informal body especially in the Kurigram region. The leadership of the Samaj is typically made up of older, experienced and well-respected men in the community, unlike the Union Parishad there are no women in leadership positions. The shalish is an informal court convened by the samaj. The samaj and shalish hold no legal authority but people do however follow the ruling of both as not to do so would risk community protection and acceptance. Less serious crimes and transgressions usually are treated by minor fines and sanctions, quite often with less severe cases, the police will refer many cases to the judgment of the Shallish. Many minor disputes such as land rights are frequent in the chars; the Shalish is usually called to mediate the situation with an estimated 90% of all disputes being resolved in this way.It is incredibly beneficial for people to be members of the Samaj as they offer community services and support in a number of ways. The samaj offer protections and services for the women when men are away working, as well as flood and erosion protection, loans at sub-commercial rates among and so on.

 

In the Chars, the cultural institutions continue to value men and women at different levels.  Much of the local norms are due to traditional religious practices and customs which has affected women’s standing in the community in a number of ways; although perhaps less so than in other Islamic societies. Women tend not to own assets and have limited freedom of movement and access to markets as they must first have the permission of their husbands. This can leave some households particularly vulnerable to shocks when the husband is away to work(Hossain, A. 2000). In much of Bangladesh, the difference between boys and girls school attendance levels has somewhat disappeared, this is not true in the Chars, however. This ties in jointly with the fact that women are often married around 8 or 9 years old and stop school once they are married. Widows in the Chars are some of the most vulnerable in the Chars due to the restraints put on them by society, this results on them either going back to their family home and being perceived as a burden by the rest of community or perhaps finding work with a much wealthier family. (Hossain, A. 2000)

 

The various institutions and platforms in the Chars impact people in a number of ways in terms of the Sustainable Livelihoods Framework. Many of these being informal institutions based in the Kurigram district. The institutions work in a number of ways:

 

Agriculture and land: Share-cropping, night sowing, panchi(Partial re-emerged land is cultivated and harvested equally), land leasing/exchange/ownership recognition

 

Livestock: Share-rearing, gifting to brides

 

Social: Hat chanada(Collection made by samaj for the poorest unable to pay for dowry), interest-free loan,

 

Religious/Cultural: Dowry, inheritance, polygamy, talak divorce

 

Financial: Shop advance, advance labor selling, credit

 

Others: Labour groups, Labour contracts

 

These local institutions along with larger institutions, aim to help people in the Chars in terms of vulnerability, asset ownership, and livelihood strategies.

 

There are numerous structures working within the Chars, both formal and informal. The informal institutions hold the most sway in the Chars as people hold little faith in the government-sanctioned institutions and policies. This is mostly due to the limited control with lack of resources, staff and so forth and the fact that laws applied in major cities in Bangladesh, cannot be applied to the Chars in the same way In this sense, law is perhaps not always sanctioned but is followed because people depend on the community protections and amenities offered (not including the extremely wealthy).There are a number of cultural restrictions in place due to perceived gender roles specific to Chars society. Many of these gender norms are specific just to the Chars and differ greatly from the rest of Bangladesh, these restrictions particularly placed on women, often send the most vulnerable in society even further into poverty. (Baqee, A.,1998) Due to sustainable framework analysis, we can see that the inability for people to escape from poverty is due to the interlinking issues and poverty traps caused by their environment. It is difficult always to be sure where interventions should be implemented due to the cast and ever-changing terrain of the Chars. Actors must correlate strategies, as now the fine work being done by them is singular and there are gaps both in quality and quantity.

 

 

 

 

 

Brief Economic History of Thailand

Thailand can be broken into four main regions. The North with its mountainous and fertile lands viable for growing rice and teak. Central Thailand home to Bangkok “City of Angels” and the fertile Chao Phraya basin. The North East (Essan), the driest, least productive and least modern place in Thailand. The South, with its moist atmosphere where many produce rubber, tropical crops, and tin. Thailand the “Land of the free” was a country living in the ideal of attaining a virtuous life by shaping their character to Buddhist principles where goodness was prized over personal wealth. Thailand has now changed from an absolute monarchy rule, to one of self-sustained Democracy. Buddhism has supplied cognitive and evaluative elements that have been integrated into every aspect of Thai identity, even If the individual is Thai or part of a Thai ethnic minority. Thailand is an extremely hierarchal society, If you are born into a ‘High-so’  family – as they are typically referred to here – your sense of identity is of course very different than if you are born into a ‘Low-so’ family. Individuals who are born into ‘High-so’ families often have a feeling of superiority over those that are born into ‘Low-so’ families.

 

 

 

Wetland agriculture has always played a significant role in Thailand’s economy. Known previously as Siam, Thailand opened to foreign contact in the pre-industrial era. Previously, Thailand was a feudal society mostly run by noble families. The Thai economy changed from one of subsidence to cash during the nineteenth century by the opening of the commercial rice market, during this time the power of the noble families was weakened as more rights were given to farmers by the King. (Jeffrey Hayes, 2008). Thailand slowly became one of the major trade hubs in Asia, mostly trading with Chinese merchants, many of whom migrated and attained high positions within the country. Later, deals with Europe increased, with treaties being created to guarantee the rights and privileges of European traders. Later amendments were made extending these opportunities to Americans also. Thailand’s economy eventually grew until it began to work on a global scale. During the time of the Vietnam war and the late 1980’s and early 1990’s Thailand began to grow at a level where the economy started to rival that of other developed nations such as Taiwan and South Korea. Growing steadily at eight percent per year between 1985 and 1995 and peaking at 13 percent in 1988. This growth continued until the great depression and then later the Asian financial crisis which originated in Thailand in 1997 because of the financial collapse of the Thai Baht. The crisis was the worst economic crisis ever to hit Thailand and was dubbed the Tom Yum Goong crisis (Spicy Shrimp Soup) due to the immense heat and stress that people felt at that time. There was action taken by many actors at the time, including the Thai monarchy. Bhumibol Adulyadej was the King at this time and had toured the country for years, especially in rural and impoverished regions such as Essan; considered to be the most impoverished region of the nation. King Bhumibol had significantly lectured on the benefits of following a sufficiency based economy. The focus being on an economy that would allow the Thai people to support themselves (UNDP report 2007). The sufficiency economy philosophy is made up of three main components these being: wisdom, moderation, and prudence. Sufficiency economy has much in common with Buddhist economics, a spiritual belief that gross national happiness is more important than gross domestic product. As Zsolnai Laszlo stated, Buddhist economics can be summed up as when “the marginal productivity of labor utilized in producing consumption goods is equal to the marginal effectiveness of the meditation involved in economizing on consumption without bringing about any change in satisfaction” (Zsolnai, Laszlo, 2011). The king among other members of the monarchy carried out a number of royal projects hoping to alleviate some of the effects of the Tom Yum Goong crisis.

 

 

Thailand’s focus for the next few years was recovery. After facing a number of natural disasters and political turmoil, Thailand was on its way to recovery. This was what led to the rise of Thaksin Shinawatra and his policy which was later named ‘Thaksinomics’ which had a focus on promoting greater infrastructure and development in rural Thailand. Thaksin was voted into office in 2001 and although the first year saw as little as 2.2 percent GDP growth, the following years saw positive growth from 2002-2004 with rates of 5.3, 7.1 and 6.3 (Aidan Jones, 2014). This again led to his party having another huge victory in 2005 where he was re-elected. There was much opposition to Thaksinomics amid reports of corruption, which later led to the military coup in 2006 while Thaksin was giving a speech at the United Nations general assembly in New York. This brought the GDP growth rate back down to 4.4 percent in 2006. Then in 2008, there was even more political turmoil between opposing groups, those who supported Thaksin and those who supported the leader of the military coup. The following years were filled with political and financial turmoil, never again having the steady growth of Thaksin Shinawatra’s Thaksonomics. In 2011 Thaksin’s sister, Yingluck Shinawatra was elected and was Prime Minister for a further three years until she was ousted in May 2014.The rice scheme was in many ways what led to her election in 2011 and subsequent removal in 2014. Yingluck promised to buy rice from Thai farmers at above market value. The rice was obtained and kept with the idea of selling it at the right time for a record profit. However, India then began to lift bans on rice exports as well as Vietnam lowering its costs of exports. Thailand could then not sell the rice that had been collected, and the rice started to deteriorate. There were immense amounts of rice in storage and Thailand was forced to sell it at a much lower price than intended. The total cost of the plan has been estimated at eight to twenty million dollars. The coup was led by military general Prayut Chan-o-cha who then established a Junta called the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) (Taylor, Adam; Kaphle, Anup 2014). Prayut is the current head of the NCPO and concurrently the Prime Minister of Thailand to this day.

 

 

 

It is clear that Thailand’s economic past has been littered with times of political unrest and financial turmoil. Thailand is a newly industrials country (NIC) and is not an entirely developed nation, yet has outpaced its other developing counterparts. With over 40 percent of Thais working in agriculture and 16 million rice farmers working in the country, it is essential that strong policies are put in place to support them. The tourism industry in Thailand is also almost double the world’s average. The average GDP contribution being 9 percent while Thailand is currently 17.7 percent. It is clear that Thailand also has a significant reliance on foreign investment. The ‘next step’ for Thailand as dubbed by the NCPO is Thailand 4.0. Thailand is currently in Phase 3.0 with Heavy-industry and energy accounting for around 70 percent of the Thai GDP. In the past, during Thailand 1.0 it was an agrarian economy. Then during Thailand 2.0, the focus was on light industry, textiles and food processing. Thailand 4.0 has three main principles:

  1. Make Thailand a high-income nation,
  2. Make Thailand a more inclusive society,
  3. Focus on sustainable growth and development.

Thailand 4.0 is an economic model without much basis on how to get over Thailand’s ‘middle-income trap.’ Thailand will need the support of foreign specialist to make 4.0 a reality. Professional associations in Thailand among others totally oppose this, however, wishing to keep professional jobs for Thais only. For the time being the Thai people must look towards the NCPO to lead them towards economic prosperity.

 

 

 

 

The modern Phu-Tai People and their dissipation of identity

Pla-Kaow-Mor-Lum-dancing-4.jpg

 

Chom Saenmit 88 years old look back to his youth with fondness. He remembers the year the school was built and he was enrolled in the first class of his village in Ban Na Bua. Chom is Phu-Tai, not to be confused the  Budai groups of Northern Vietnam and Southern China as they so often are. The current Phu-Tai residing in Thailand are the descendants of various  groups of Phu-Tai settlers who migrated from Kham Muam and Savannakhet during the 19th century. Chom recalls the time when his school first opened, the Phu-Tai people learned with their teachers speaking Laos at first, then Thai and finally Phu-Tai. The younger generations all speak Phu-Tai, even the youngest children have a knowledge of the language; thanks to the efforts of teachers like Ajarn Darang Lang the local Anuban teacher the language is being kept alive.

 

 

There has not been much of a decline in the number of speakers of Phu-Tai according to the research of William A. Smalley 2005 . That is not to say that the Phu-Tai language is not altered more each and every year in numerous ways. In the past Phu-Tai communities very much kept to themselves, married amongst themselves and held on to their inherent traditions.

 

 

 

Chom recalls a time when parents chose the partners for their children, a tradition common among many ethnic groups in Thailand’s past. This  kept the Phu-Tai community very closed off in the past, yet keeping their culture and customs very much intact. During the last hundred years however the Phu-Tai communities have become more and more integrated into greater Thai society. Phu-Tai people are free to marry who they will now, no matter their religious or cultural background. Chom told regrettably us of how his daughter has married a man from Phuket, she lives  there with him now and has even converted to Islam. Something which would certainly not have happened in the past. Cases like his daughters have of course made numerous changes to the Phu-Tai language. Even if Phu-Tai people are marring individuals who live nearby, they may not be Phu-Tai, they are more often than not in fact Thai. This is leading to more and more Thai words being assimilated into the Phu-Tai language.

 

 

 

 

Phu-Tai  are almost entirely Buddhist now, differing from most other branches of Tai ethnicity who very much keep to their own animistic and spiritual religious practices. The Phu-Tai people do however keep many of their spiritual and medicinal traditions alive by the use of mo yao healing. This is both a herbal and shamanistic form of healing. Most of the Phu-Thai communities still follow the practice but the younger generation specifically see little merit in it. There has been significant research into the effective of Mo yao healing by numerous anthropologists and Thai medical professionals . Most notably were several studies using both quantative and qualitive data into several Phu-Tai communities throughout Kalasin province. One such study was carried out by Mr.Thanyalux Mollerup which revealed the intricate relationship between the Phu-Tai people and Mo yao healing to still be very much alive, however it is now practiced in a very different way from when it once was. The research by Thanyalux also revealed how the Thai government healthcare system has taken place of Mo yao healing in most villages, as government healthcare programs reach even the most remote peoples now. Most of the reliance now tends to be on mental and non-physical forms of healing as these can often be put down to spiritual ailments. Mo yao healing is a major part of the traditional Phu-Tai lifestyle and if it is lost so too may their ethnic identity.

 

 

The Phu-Tai people have not entirely lost their identity, however. Another individual trying to keep Phu-Tai traditions alive is Mr.Jarook Saenmit, the deputy president of the thambon sub-district. Jarook has tried several approaches to keep the Phu-Tai cultural heritage alive. He told us of how even just 50 years earlier the area surrounding where we were interviewing him was once a forest. Ban Na Bua was once very much a forested region of Isaan. He told us of how people used stilts as a way to cross through the forests and avoid the mud and water. Jarook is attempting to revitalize Phu-Tai traditions by running various activities and workshops for the locals. Some of the activities include showing the children how to use the stilts, variations of Phu-Tai dancing and singing workshops, as well as weaving and numerous other traditional practices.  No one can be certain how the Phu-Tai people will have changed in another hundred years, nor how much of their cultural identity will have survived. We can, however, be confident that through the efforts of individuals like Mr.Jarook, not all of the  Phu-Tai heritage will be lost.

How clicktivism and hashtag activism is destroying social activism

We have all heard of #BlackLivesMatter, #ALSIceBucketChallenge, and the #NODAPL movement; but how effective can hashtag activism really be?

 

Hashtag activism is a term that started appearing during the Occupy Wall Street Movement. Hashtagging and clicking are how the majority of millennials take part in modern day “Activism”. It is easy, you see a video that makes you feel something, you click it, share it and hashtag it. You then feel like you are making a difference, but are you really? The majority of millennials do use social media and believe it to be an effective tool for discussing topical social issues. The majority of the time, however, there are little or no tangible results. Do you remember the #Kony2012 and #BringBackOurGirls campaigns? The amount of attention that both of these campaigns received was unprecedented. Millions of people shared and tweeted, hashtagged and liked, but to little avail. Both of these campaigns received lots of media attention and clicktivists from all over the world made these campaigns known. Even after being dubbed the most viral video in history little difference was seen on the ground at the time. The campaign did lead to the Uganda military claiming they would capture Kony “dead or alive”, America also sent its own advisors to help. The African Union even send 5000 troops to help capture Kony. So much was done at the time but to little avail. Kony is still alive and free today, he is not, however “at large” as he was claimed to be before. He is now in hiding and has only around 100 troops compared to the 3000 he had before.

 

The majority of ” activism” nowadays is only skin deep, surface value activism; With little depth or meaning. Social activism in the past was real activism, with real risk and real tangible results. Look at the suffragettes, the coal mining communities, gay rights activists and numerous other groups who gambled with their lives and livelihoods. We now look back as we usually do, with ‘rose tinted glasses’, we idolize these people and now and paint them as heroes. There is little risk now, you feel morally superior when protesting with little risk to yourself or those around you the majority of the time. Slacktivism promotes this more and more, it does bring awareness to situations where in times gone by, no one would have even heard of them. Hashtagging and sharing is creating a generation where everyone is an activist, this is devaluing the word itself. People see something online and they can go out and protest in hundreds of thousands.  A  great number of people not even understanding fully the situation they are protesting, they have little knowledge of either side, theirs included. In the past, you totally and wholeheartedly believed in what you were fighting for. This is the great problem with the left now, they believe themselves morally superior to the right. There is no dialogue, if a Neo-Nazi approaches a podium to give their opinions, they are booed and attacked, they are called a bigot and a racist(they are by the way). This is what clicktivism is creating, a generation who believe themselves to be morally superior because they stand in some protest or share and hashtag something. It all comes down to knowledge and todays ‘activists’ seem to have little.

 

The ideology for people who who want to appear to be doing something for a particular cause with out actually having to do any thing.

The individual being a Slacktavist

great form of slacktavism is changing your facebook picture to support a cause with out actually doing anything that will make a difference. You are one great slacktavist.

 

The Thai Bhikkuni and their role in promoting female empowerment in Thailand

 

The majority of people in Thailand are devout Buddhists, with over 95 percent of the country following Buddhism and its entailed traditions and practices. Buddhism therefore, of course, plays an integral part in the culmination of Thai cultural identity. Buddhism is a part of every aspect of life in Thailand, from giving alms in the morning to the monks and children saying Buddhist prayers in the morning and the majority of Thai men being a monk at least for a short period of their life; Buddhist traditions are seen and felt everywhere in Thai society; As is the presence of the male dominated monkhood.

 

As Thailand is heavily influenced by Buddhist values, the Buddhist monks are of course the curators of the religion. Thai monks are seen and felt everywhere with over 32,000 monasteries, 265,956 monks and 87,695 novices (Bangkok Post survey 2017).Monks take part in many official ceremonies daily throughout for example monks may bless a house or a new car, offer prayers at a wedding(Less than 100 years ago, this would never have happened as monks were seen as an ill omen, only to attending funerals): monks may offer prayers for a new business and any number of other occasions. Although monks are numerous in Thailand and come from a variety of social and economic backgrounds (Even the current King has ordained) they do have one thing in common, they are all male. Monks being the representatives of a religion which take part in every part of daily Thai life and they are all male, there is another group of individuals who also embody traditional Buddhist values, the ‘rebel monks’ the Thai Bhikkunni. The Bhiksunni are a group of female monks ordained in the Theravada tradition. Many Bhikkunni have faced opposition in Thailand, both from the male dominated Sangha Supreme Council of Thailand (Buddhist governing body in Thailand) and from laypeople (non-ordained individuals).  This paper will be an assessment of  role that men have in challenging gender equality, namely the male dominated Sangha in Thailand. It will discuss if it is more important for women to form their owns groups, or to work alongside with men. The gains that could  be made through gender equality  programmes targeting both men and women will be discussed as well as what may be appropriate or undesirable.

 

 

 

Chatsumarn Kabilsingh Shatsena now known as Dhammananda Bhikkhuni was the first modern woman to receive full ordination in the Theravada tradition of Buddhism in Thailand. Born in 1944 Chatsumarn Kabilsingh Shatsena to Voramai Kabilsingh also known as Ta Tao Fa Tzu as she was ordained in the Dharmaguptaka  school of Buddhism and Kokiat Shatsena Chatsumarn has to lead a fascinating life and is now the abbess of  Songdhammakalyani Monastery, the only Bhikkunni temple in Thailand. Translated as the “temple where women uphold the Dharma”. Dhammanda Bhikkunni was ordained on 28 February 2003 in Sri Lanka after which she returned to Thailand.(Snyder, 2003). There has of course been much opposition to the Bhikkuni order in Thailand. Many Bhikku (Male monks) including the Ecclesiastical Council disagree with the ordination of Bhikkuni in Thailand believing their ordination to be illegitimate. According to Metthanando Bhikku a prominent monk in Thailand and member of the Ecclesiastical Council:”Equal rights for men and women are denied by the Ecclesiastical Council. No woman can be ordained as a Theravada Buddhist nun or bhikkhuni in Thailand. The Council has issued a national warning that any monk who ordains female monks will be severely punished.”( Metthanando Bhikku,2005).According to Buddhist historians, the original order of the Bhikkuni was set up several years after the Bhikku order at the request of Mahapajapati who was the Buddhas aunt and carer after the death of his mother and her followers. According to tradition, the Buddha denied her several times before allowing her to ordain.This was not however due to her gender but was in fact because they were courtly women used to the extravagances of palace life and would find the harsh lives of monks of that time a struggle. According to Dhammananda Bhikkhuni: “Many people in Thailand both monastics and laypeople do not realise that there has been Bhikkunni in the region before. According to Not many in Thailand understand Buddhism truly like when the Buddha first said no to his aunt and her followers when they asked to be ordained, this was not because of their gender, but because they were women of the court, they could not handle the conditions. Many forget that the Buddha was from a time when social values were different.”( Dhammananda Bhikkhuni 2017). Since the ordinations of Dhammananda Bhikkhuni, a number of other Bhikkhuni have been ordained in Thailand now number numbering over 100 Bhikkhuni throughout Thailand.Not including the number of Sramaneris(Novices) and Mae Ji’s.

 

Due to the prohibition set by the Sangha, many Thai women instead volunteer to become Mae ji’s.Mae ji’s try to lead a devout life according to the Buddhas teachings, shaving their heads like monks and wearing white following 8-10 precepts(holy rules that must be followed) as opposed to the 331 precepts for Bhikkhuni and 227 for monks.Mae ji’s do not receive the benefits of monastics but are denied rights are are offered to lay people throughout Thailand such as being able to vote or stand for election. According to Dhammananda  Bhikkhuni Mae ji’s are a new concept and not part of traditional Buddhism: “I depend on you and you depend on me, my grandmother was illiterate, and she was a Mae ji, yet when it came to praying she knew everything. She prayed beautifully.Mae Ji’s are not ordained, nor do they receive the benefits of being so.In fact, they are more often treated like servants, having to wash the monk’s clothes and cleaning. Look at the four pillars of the Buddhist community, like legs on a chair, The Bhikkus(monks) Bhikkhunis(nuns), Laymen and Laywomen.Mae Ji’s are a new concept”.Many Mae JI’s face discrimination throughout Thailand, not only do they not have the benefits offered to other monastics such as free transport, etc., many believe they become Mae Ji’s for the wrong reasons. Many Thai people look down on Mae Ji’s feeling that they had no other option, that they could not find a husband or are using the cloak of becoming a Mae Ji to escape other problems in their life.

 

Early every morning in Thailand the streets are lined with people throughout the country, waiting to give alms to the monks. This is part of the merit system in Buddhism which is believed to bring benefits to the next life. The alms givers are predominately women however, some folklore says that women are born with bad karma and must make more merit in this life to become a man in the next. In the same sense that transgender individuals are born in the wrong body due to transgressions in their previous life, this is not true to the Buddhas original teachings however . According to Buddhist tradition It is believed that everyone is born with both good and bad karma within them and all have the same potential to reach enlightenment. It is cultural , in that same sense the culture protects you.( Dhammananda Bhikkhuni, 2017).It is not only in alms giving where women take the prominent role, also cleaning at the temple, washing , brushing and preparing for  the numerous religious festivals that take place all year round. Like the Mae Ji’s at temples many Thai women still take on the domestic responsibilities , even when it comes to religious duties. After offering alms and preparing comes the time for the religious ceremonies, this is a time when women do not take a prominent role. During religious ceremony the monks sit elevated, with the grandfathers and oldest men sitting closest to the monks, and then come the fathers and then the sons. At the back sit the women and daughters, even though the majority of alms giving  and preparation  for the ceremony was carried out by women, they sit furthest away from the monks and instead the men of the family take control of orchestrating the other attendees.History is written by by men, about men, so we start to write a story about women, from a woman’s- that is a different voice.( Dhammananda Bhikkhuni, 2012).It is not only in alms giving where women take the prominent role, also cleaning. Perspective As was mentioned before, Buddhism is a significant part of Thai peoples cultural identity, yet the male figures are dominant in Buddhism in Thailand and are the leading figures who govern the dissemination of Buddhist and patriarchal ideology. It is seen that people are punished and rewarded for carrying on in this way, people are encouraged to conform and what is viewed as masculine is also seen as superior(Mead 1949).If women were able to be seen in positions of power in a religious sense in Thailand, it would change their perception of value and empower them to take on new roles for cultural and religious traditions . The whole power dynamic and system of bunkum(system of ineptness) and sakdi na (social hierarchy).  According to Dhammananda Bhikkhuni: “I’m just a small crack in the wall; the wall of patriarchy; on the wall of the hierarchy; on the wall of injustice. Soon there will be more cracks and someday the wall will fall.”( Dhammananda Bhikkhuni,2017).The ‘Wai’ in Thailand is a significant act of social behavior in Thailand. It is a physical gesture which is  symbolic of  a person’s social standing. The wai consists of hands clasped together, prayer-like, followed with a very slight bow. There are a variety of different ways to wai, for example someone would never wai a person younger than them first or in a lower position. In a school a new and younger teacher would wai the older teacher and the students would wai the new teacher and so on. The higher someone stands socially the higher hands are to be raised with monks and royalty receiving the highest of wais, with people raising them hands to their forehead. Thai people are very sensitive to their social standing in Thailands immensely hierarchical structure. The idea of a male having to Wai a religious female monastic in Thailand is an alien concept. Even in other intuitions such as hospitals and schools men advance much further and quicker than women. If someone in a senior position wished something done, they would ask the female, even if they started the job at the same time and were both interns with the same qualifications. This may even include cleaning or simply going to get coffee, the junior female in the place of work would always be asked, and if not then it would be the more feminine man and so on. By seeing more women in as leading figures in Buddhism it would begin to effect all other parts of Thai society. Human behavior is unbelievably malleable responding and contrastingly to contrasting cultural traditions(Mead 1949).Throughout the country there are numerous temple schools where families who cannot afford schooling can send their sons to get a good education. There are few choices for girls with little education, factory workers, manual workers or even sex workers. Families believe that sending their sons to be a  monk at a temple even for a short time garners them much merit for the next life, again something which is currently not possible for girls in Thailand currently.

 

 

 

 

To avoid trouble with the greater clergy many Bhikkhuni dub their temples ‘womens meditation centres’.Bhikkhuni in Thailand have faced widespread discrimination throughout Thailand both by Bhikku(male monks) and laypeople despite many trying to lead a quiet existence. On April 20, 2016, a Bhikkhuni ‘womens meditation centre’ was burned down, the centre was run by two Bhikkhuni who may also have had land problems with their neighbours, they, however, faced many challenges before this incident with being frowned upon by the clergy. Not only do Bhikkhuni have to work extremely hard to support themselves and their centres, due to not receiving any of the benefits that other monastics get; they must also concentrate on having relations with locals. The image of Thai monks has been tainted severely over the last few years with accounts of rape, drug trafficking, smuggling amongst an array of other crimes. Similar to in the way the image of Catholic priests has been tarnished the monks in Thailand have also been, perhaps, irreparably. The social elite in Thailand also are against female ordination in Thailand as every year Thailands biggest stars, and wealthiest individuals donate millions to temples, which they frequently receive tax refunds for.Many of the wealthiest people in Thailand have made deals with famous Thai monks as it is a legitimate way to take care of some of their money and keep it ‘clean’. Not only does the Thai Sangha forbid the ordination of females on Thai soil but they have also denied visas to Bhikkhuni coming to Thailand from abroad. In 2003 the Department of National Buddhist Affairs for Thailand denied visas for multiple Bhikkhuni; both from Sri Lanka and India. Dhammananda Bhikkhuni made the following statement after the visas were denied: “Is this the way that the Department of National Buddhist Affairs is trying to preserve Buddhism? This is clearly a systematic elimination of the Bhikhunni Sangha.This is disrespectful to the allowance of the Buddha himself. ” Another example was in early 2017 when a large group of 70 Bhikhunni arrived at the grand palace intending to pay respects to the late monarch but were denied. Dhammananda Bhikkhuni had already made preparations and called to the palace for confirmation however when they arrived at the palace were denied the monastic entrance. They were told that if they wished to pay their respects, they would have to disrobe and join the other laypeople.  Earlier in the year, other groups of Bhikkhuni were also denied entrance.

 

 

It is clear that the Bhikkhuni in Thailand face an uphill battle. They fight not only ideals of gender conformity but also are faced with opposition on all sides: The Sangha, laypeople, male patriarchy and the social elites. Bhikkuni offers a new vision for Theravada Buddhism in Thailand, one free from the corruption and scandal that is currently residing in the monkhood here. It is clear that individuals such as Dhammananda Bhikkhuni strive not only for gender equality in religion but in all aspects of Thai life. Gender equality in Buddhism is, of course, the first step in empowering women in Thailand to a new future. One in which women are as valued as men and feminine qualities are also seen as powerful.When Dhammananda Bhikkhuni was asked in 2017:

What do you see as the future of the Bhikkhunis in Thailand?

She replied:
“Remember three things in life, think of yourself as in a cocoon as we are 1.To always be humble that is the most important thing,2. Be eager 3. Always seek to improve yourself. No one can stop us now, not the Sangha or others, we are growing and will continue to grow.”

Migrant Worker in Thailand-แรงงานข้ามชาติ

In Thailand, there are almost two million migrant workers, around eighty percent of them being Burmese. Many of the Burmese workers came in the eighties and nineties as Thailand experienced an economic boom having an average wage increase of eight percent per year. This was because the migrant Burmese workers would take up the jobs that many Thai people would not such as manufacturing and hard agricultural work. Many leave in the face of almost certain poverty for the chance of a better life.

I am Burmese and a migrant worker that is why the police don’t care about this case…. [M]y husband and I are only migrant workers and we have no rights here.

—Aye Aye Ma, from Burma, who was raped by two unknown Thai assailants after they shot and killed her husband on November 5, 2007, in Phang Nga province

This is not always the case as can be seen from this testimony by Aye Aye Ma. Many Burmese workers are bound totally to their employer. Many of the workers face extortion, physical harm and threats by government authorities. These are clear human rights abuses and are not limited to simply one area of Thailand but rather along the entirety of the country. Migrant workers face extortion at will by Thai authorities, often the value of several months wages at a time.When they cannot pay the workers are often beaten and arrested until a family member or friends can pay for their release.

Below is some quotes from the Human Rights Watch report: The tiger and the Crocodile

Whenever we are walking and talking on the street, if the police see us using the phone they will stop us and take it. If you want to talk to me about these kinds of cases, you will not be able to finish the interview today….It happens every day.

—U Win, a migrant worker from Burma in Surat Thani, August 27, 2008.

There are many dangers for workers who work at night. For example, when the workers meet Thai teenager gangs, they are robbed and beaten….The danger we face is invisible. If we were able to have mobile phones and motorcycles, we might manage to escape from the danger.[67]

—U Win, migrant worker from Burma, Muang district, Surat Thani province

If you pay money [to the police], you can do anything in our region. If you want, you can kill people … I have seen dead bodies many times by the side of the road … Our area is like a fighting zone … when the police hear the sounds of gunshots, they will not come … [later] the police will come ask what happened, and write down the information and then they go away, and that is all that happens.

—Saw Htoo, Burmese migrant worker who provided information to the Thai police, Mae Sot district, Tak province

“He was coming out of the shop. There were two police officers on a motorcycle who stopped him and asked him if he had a work permit. But he could not speak Thai and so he did not reply….Those two police started to beat him and they kicked him in the chest until he died there. Many Burmese were watching and nobody went and helped because all of the people were afraid of those police, so nobody said anything about this killing, and nobody informed the police station. When the two police saw that the boy died, they went away on their motorcycle. I saw the next morning that the rescue foundation came and took the boy’s dead body and no police officer was with them … I really wanted to help but I am afraid of those police.”

This is just a sampling of the human rights abuses and racial discrimination that Burmese workers face everyday here in Thailand.