Interview with Ven. Dr. Dhammananda Bhikkhuni

Ven. Dr. Dhammananda Bhikkhuni
(ธัมมนันทา ภิกษุณี)

“Remember three things in life think of yourself as in a cocoon as we are 1.To always be humble,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 continues to grow….No one can stop us now”

1.How can Buddhism be used as an effective tool to empower women in Thailand
1.Yes most definitely, through communication and development, Buddhism is part of our Thai cultural identity and therefore can be used to empower women

2.The Tripitaka because it was written by men with Indian social values of that time could be said to oppress women?
2.Yes, for sure, it was written in a time when social values were different, and gender norms were also different.It was a different time then, and things were not as they are now

3.What are your thought on the 8 gurudhamas?
3. Even if a monk or junior comes to our temple, I will Wai and welcome them.These are to be followed but read carefully.Look at an example of when a group of bhikkhunis were having their robes lifted by a group of young monks.The Buddha intervened and told the bhikkhunis that they do not have to show respect to the monks, this is one of the several examples, always read the footnotes in life and most importantly always be humble

4.Do you feel you need to follow the precepts more strictly because you are bhikkhunis and may be judged unfairly?
4. Yes, indeed, eyes are on us, and we are women after all.

5.Some women in Thailand feel they need to make more merit than men in Thailand, why is this?
Yes, this is also cultural, women make merit at the temple and give offerings in the mornings, yet it is the men who lead the ceremonies.At the temple it is the women who sit on the outside furthest from the monks, even their sons are closer to the centre.

6.What are your thoughts on Mae Ji’s?
6. I depend on you and you depend on me, my grandmother was illiterate and she is 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

7.In Thai folklore some people believe that women are born from bad karma, What are your thoughts?
We are all born of good and bad karma, and all have the same potential to reach enlightenment, it is cultural, the culture protects you.Look at the way a young man may drink and be drunk, and it is acceptable but what would people opinions be if it was a woman?

8.Do you ever see a bhikkhunis Sangha being possible in Thailand?
Yes, we have over 100 bhikkhunis in Thailand currently as well as this we have a network throughout ASEAN and Asia. This is for Theravada Buddhism, in Mahayana they don’t need to worry they have over 22,000 in some countries alone.

9.Some have dubbed the bhikkhunis as rebels, what are your thoughts?
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.

10.What do you see as the future of the Bhikkhunis in Thailand?
10.Remember three things in life, think of yourself as in a cocoon as we are 1.To always be humble,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.

 

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I mentioned I was gong to visit Ven. Dr Dhammananda Bhikkhuni, well I have now been and visited for a few days. She was inspiring, she knew all the Buddhist teachings and takes to apply them in modern times. There has been very mixed opinions about her throughout Thailand.She has often been condemned by the  Thai Sangha which is the governing body of monks in Thailand, the Sangha holds huge political power also.These are just a few of the questions that I asked her. She emphasised the fact that is women who make most of the merit(giver food to the monks in the morning, prepare food at the temple, cleaning etc).When it comes to religious ceremony and offerings the women have to sit at the back, furthest from the monks, even the mothers and grandmothers, their sons going before them. With Buddhism being a major part of Thai cultural identity(Over 95% Buddhists) what would happen if women were also allowed to be ordained once more, it would revesre these roles and in fact empower women who then have role models in their religion which takes part in almost all aspects of Thai daily life.

Attached is my photo when talkin with her, also the books which she has written.Although she has ordained now, she has written many books, talked at UN conferences, TED talks, and even been nominated for the nobel peace prize.She came across as a very genuine woman with a wealth of knowledge and a great sense of humor.

books

Culture and Multiculturalism

Multiculturalism has been growing not only in the West but also much throughout Asia and the Middle East. It is something that is happening and will continue to happen more so on a global scale,it is not always a harmonious process however; there has and will continue to be a number of issues as cultures and peoples meld together.

In my school for example there is over 40 teachers in our Foreign Languages Department. This is a Thai public school and only fifteen of those teachers are Thai. There are teachers Cameroonian,Zimbabwe,England,Scotland,Poland,America,Tunisia,Philippines,China,Vietnam, among others.There is over twenty languages spoken in our office on a daily basis such as: Shona,French,English,Japanese,Korean,Tagalog,German, among a variety of other languages. Even here in Thailand a country that relies on its Foreign influence to survive to some degree there has been great friction. Many officials in Thailand including the Prime Minister  Prayut Chan-o-Cha have voiced their views against the foreign influence(reliance) in Thailand. It goes to show that in rural Thailand even a government high school has felt the effects of multiculturalism.

The argument of  universalism and cultural relativism is one that scholars  have always have and will continue to debate. Is it morally just to impose our views of right and wrong on other cultures ?

Many argue that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights(1948) was influenced mostly by the west,therefore aligning with Western ideals of what an infringement of  human rights is and what is not. My friends for example who come from an Arabic background would show me the newspapers and articles in Arabic and translate them. We could then compare them to the American news version of the same incident.The version of news written in Arabic would read something akin to “American bomb massacres funeral party” it would be a main feature.If you did read about it at all in the American news it may be a side note and may read something different such as “successful air strike ” etc.  These instances may not be a breach of human rights as America had a huge hand in writing the Deceleration of Human Rights. However Middle-Eastern Countries did not nearly have as much of an input into the creating of the Deceleration.

This is why many academics link ethnocentrism to universalism as they believe that many Intergovernmental organisation such as the  International Criminal Court(ICC) are incapable of managing nor have to the right to manage international human rights abuse cases. Cultural relativists believe that cases should be managed on a case by case basis in locally governed offices by locally appointed officials. This way not only are you empowering locals and giving them a sense of agency in their own communities but being culturally sensitive to local issues.

I think that many people can be hypercritical of IGO’s, it is very easy to be critical of them as they are so authoritative now: people do not however offer alternatives.I do think that as IGO’s , globalisation and multiculturalism grows it becomes harder to  not see things as being universally right or wrong. What is right in one culture , may be deemed wrong by another. Look at that  the 2004 ‘Muslim Headscarf Ban’ that we studied before. I think from knowledge comes understanding and people need to understand other cultures and how they operate and from that understanding hopefully tolerance is born. IGO’s need to hire more in country experts and locals who know their own system better than international ‘experts’ . Many are of course trying , it is simply harder now as globalisation progresses.

Power, and how it is used for facilitating social change

 

As the title suggest this will be a contribution to the following statement “when it comes to understanding power and movements for change, it’s important to think of power not only in terms of the powerful forces that movements are trying to disrupt or oppose or overthrow but also in terms of the power that individuals (like Ron Finley) and groups take for themselves (claim or mobilise) in order to create alternatives”. It will start by giving examples of the kind of power available to groups and individuals and how they can harness it. The paper will then move on to leadership amongst movements and how leadership is important and how they help make agency possible through expressions of power. The paper will then give examples how groups claim power for themselves and challenge ‘power over’. Finally to conclude the paper will show how important power is for movements of change and how we need to not only think of power “as being  defined only in negative terms, and as a form of domination, but it can also be a positive force for individual and collective capacity to act for change”. Lisa VeneKlasen and Valeries Miller in A New Weave of Power (2002, page 55)

 

Examples of power

There are four expressions of power, this is a brief explanation

Power Over

This is the most common expression of power, it if often seen as only as win or lose and nothing else. It has many negative associations for people, such as repression, force, coercion, discrimination, corruption, and abuse. With ‘power over’ it means taking it from someone, dominating and preventing other from obtaining it. This is not only seen being used by ‘powerful groups’ but ‘powerless groups’ also use this form of power’. Marginalized groups often, when they gain power imitate those who once dominated them by their use of ‘power over’

Power With

This is where people find common ground and work together to make change. ‘Power with’ bridges across different interests to transform or reduce social conflict and promote equitable relations.

Power To

‘Power to’ highlights the potential of every person. It makes it possible for joint action in conjunction with ‘power with’

Power within

‘Power within’ has to do with a person’s sense of hope, their sense worth and that they themselves can actually make a difference.

Powercube.net, expressions of power (http://www.powercube.net/other-forms-of-power/expressions-of-power/)

Leadership amongst movement for change

Leadership is important for social movements in a myriad of ways. It can be said that “social movement leaders mobilize the emotions that make agency possible”(Ganz,Leading change,Harvard Press 2010).As shown above through forms of power, relationships are paramount in social movements. Leadership can be seen as a key instrument to forming these relationships. This does not mean that there is one person ‘in charge’ or who takes ‘control’ but is rather a person who organizes “by identifying, recruiting and developing leadership on all levels. This leadership forges a primary source of social movement power.” (Ganz,Leading change,Harvard Press 2010).

How Groups claim power for themselves and challenge ‘power over’

It is possible to challenge ‘power over’ by using ‘power to’, ‘power with’ and ‘power within’. It is entirely possible for any group or movement to challenge the ‘powers that be’ and ‘power over’. We have seen examples throughout history and even now we see it on a daily basis. The key word here is challenge, not that people are always successful, but ‘power over’ is in fact challenged. An example is the ‘Arab Spring ‘These were a series of protest that spread throughout the Middle-East mostly aimed at the ageing Arab dictatorships amongst a variety of other social issues. These countries did not decide to protest together at the same time but rather it was an incendiary effect due to their homogeneous ideals. Some deemed these protest a failure, this is due to the fact that they did not overthrow the numerous authoritarian regimes that governed them. They truly utilized ‘power to’ and ‘power within’ by believing it was possible for social change in the Middle East. They also used ‘power with’ by following and inspiring each other in similar ways.

Rather I believe they were a catalyst for change in a different sense. It is difficult to over throw decades of corrupt rule. They have slowly paved the way for more elected officials and more transparent governing powers however. The Arab spring also inspired other movements such as the Occupy movement. This movement started in 2011 also, starting to challenge mainly the inequalities faced by the majority of Americans. They have taken the trademark “We are the 99%”(Occupy.net,20110, this is to reflect the fact that they represent the economic inequality faced by 99% of the American people. Since then it has taken hold and spread to every continent of the world .Not unlike the French revolution in the 18th century, where similarly there was economic inequality as the “top” tier of society paid no taxes at all. It ended with the ’99%’ creating their own constitution.

 

It’’s important to take note of some important movements happening in the world right now. Such as the Dakota pipeline protests also known as (and hashtagged) the NoDAPL movement. This is a movement that has attracted huge amounts of support (not enough from mainstream media) and has been tagged and shared worldwide. I think this is a great example of how movements are able to grow and flourish in the digital age. Even if they are not shown or even represented in any forms by some major news stations, they can still receive tremendous amounts of backing. This truly shows how media is an imperative tool in the use of any successful movement now and empowers all to make change.

 

To conclude, this paper has shown how power has changed over time. It is possible now more than ever to challenge ‘power over’ thanks to the use of social media and other platforms that were not available before. Social movements are now able to help each other on a global scale and more importantly believe that they can in fact implement social change.

 

 

Social movements are purposeful, organized groups striving to work toward a common goal. These groups might be attempting to create change (Occupy Wall Street, Arab Spring), to resist change (anti-globalization movement), or to provide a political voice to those otherwise disenfranchised (civil rights movements). Social movements create social change.

 

 

 

 

‘Muslim Headscarf’ Ban 2004

Introduction

 

In 2004, a law banning the wearing of Muslim headscarves came into force in France and has proved very controversial. This will be an analysis of the embargo and the response of the French government to the issue of the wearing of the Muslim headscarf. This will also touch upon why women wear Muslims headscarves and the empowerment and disempowerment that comes with wearing one.

 

 

The Headscarves

 

 

The scarves that women who follow the Islamic faith come in a myriad of styles and colours The word hijab comes from the Arabic for the veil and is used to describe the headscarves worn by Muslim women. The type most commonly worn in the West is a square scarf that covers the head and neck but leaves the face clear. There is also the al-amira which comes in two pieces. The first part is a knitted cap and comes with a tube-like scarf. The Shayla is popular in the Gulf region; it is one long rectangular scarf. It is then tucked in or pinned at the shoulders. The Khimar is long and cape-like, it hangs down until it reaches the wait, completely covering the hair and shoulders, but the face is clear. The Chador is similar but does, however, cover the whole body not only to the waist but does again leave the face clear. The niqab is like the chador but does cover the face also leaving only the eyes clear. Finally, there is the Burka which covers the body and faces entirely leaving only a screen to see through.

 

The feeling of empowerment

 

There have been people criticising women wearing hijabs for decades. Some would even describe it as a symbol of ‘oppression in a patriarchal society’. Many Muslims including women disagree with this train of thought and rather believe that wearing a hijab is not only a symbol of their religious values but also ties in with their strong sense of cultural identity. Many followers of the Islamic faith believe that a hijab can, in fact, be empowering for a woman.Safiya a Muslim woman living in Canada said:

“The one thing I don’t understand is why people assume hijab/niqab is a symbol of oppression. Never once in my life have I been told to wear the hijab. For me, it has always been part of my life growing up, and every morning when I see myself in the mirror, it makes me happy because I decided that I wanted to wear the hijab.

When I wear my hijab it makes me feel confident, I feel like myself, this is how I have always been. But this isn’t how the majority of the world looks upon the hijab. We live in a strange society where walking around half naked is acceptable but being modest and covering up is frowned upon.

Not only this but also the fact that forcing a woman not to wear what she likes is OK when clearly it is oppression itself. How hypocritical is the French government.”

[Safiya in Canada,2015]

 

A study into female empowerment for Muslim women in America by Anderson Beckmann Al Wazni in 2015 found that:

“Regardless of whatever outright or assumed discrimination participants faced, all of them ultimately identified as feeling very much empowered, and that Islam as a religion was the source of their rights and power as a woman. At some point in the interview, every single participant stated that the hijab gave them a sense of respect, dignity, and control over who has access to their physical body. All members felt that this, in turn, offered them security, self-confidence, and empowerment

.[Al wazni, Oxford Academic social work]

There has been quantifying research showing the emancipation of women according to Mussaps research 2009:

” Quantitative study surveyed Australian women and found that those who follow the Islamic faith and wear hijab were not necessarily any less likely to compare their bodies to the body ideals produced in the media, but that the hijab did offer protection by “buffering against appearance-based public scrutiny (through adoption of traditional clothing) and by insulating her from exposure to Western ideals (by discouraging consumption of body-centric media)”

[Mussap Quantitive study, Muslim women in America 2009]

 

 

Disempowerment

 

Not all Muslim women agree that wearing a Hijab empowers them but find it to be disempowering and are in fact a symbol of oppression.

“For many the hijab, along with the dehumanising niqab and burqa, are symbols of oppression, not some national costume to be worn for kicks and giggles.

Somalian-born author and activist, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, describes Muslim headscarves as a means in which a deeply patriarchal culture oppresses women.

“The veil deliberately marks women as private and restricted property, non-persons,” she said.

“The veil sets women apart from men and apart from the world; it restrains them, confines them, grooms them for docility.

“It is the mark of a kind of apartheid, not the domination of a race but of sex.”

Just how is social cohesion advanced by these ludicrous proposals?

As someone from a Middle Eastern background, I’ve seen first-hand the pressure on girls to obey their devout parents as well as their community’s wishes regarding how they dress.

That pressure to conform can be overwhelming.

You risk not only being judged, denounced and reviled but completely ostracised.

Being a source of shame to your family for not abiding by accepted cultural practices can be traumatic for any young girl let alone one raised in cultures where she’s considered subservient to men.

 

[Rita Panahi, The Daily Telegraph, This is a symbol of oppression. Please don’t celebrate it, April 20, 2015]

This is however mostly is taken a first hand from Middle Eastern countries and not the West.

 

The French Ban

The ban in 2004 of religious symbols has been contested since its implementation. The law has been dubbed the ‘Muslim headscarf ban’.The law banned all religious symbols but was aimed at the followers of the Islamic faith. According to a Human rights watch report from February 2004:

“The proposed law is an unwarranted infringement on the right to religious practice, For many Muslims, wearing a headscarf is not only about religious expression, but it is also about religious obligation.”

[Human rights Watch report, February 2004]

Due to immigration from parts of Africa and former colonies, France has the largest Muslim population in Europe. There have been several appeals made to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), all, however, have been rejected every time.The law concerning la séparation des Églises et de l’État was passed by the chamber of deputies in 1905 and has been in effect since then. This intends to separate church and state law entirely. The law has been upheld and most recently” Loi interdict la dissimulation du visage days l’espace public was passed…it was an  act of parliament adopted by the Senate of France on 14 September 2010, resulting in the ban on the wearing of face-covering headgear, including masks, helmets, balaclavas, niqabs and other veils covering the face in public places, except under specified circumstances.”[ Allen, Peter, Daily Mail (14 September 2010).

 

Conclusion

 

The French ban has had many criticisms of the ‘Muslim Headscarf’ ban and individuals claiming that nuns and others have been allowed to wear their habit without contention. The ban has forced mostly Muslim women and girls to reveal private parts about themselves, pay fines, or being expelled from school. The ban needs to be looked at less like a ban on a piece of religious clothing but rather a part of cultural identity. It could be claimed that women have been wearing the hijab for thousands of years before Islam was even part of the Middle-East and throughout Arabic countries. The wearing of a Hijab is rather part of not only many people’s religious ideals but also cultural values. Not only it is religiously inappropriate, but culturally it would be incredibly revealing and embarrassing to many people. It is true that the ‘cultural web’ changes and adapt but not when it is forced ” There are significant structural ‘strands’ in culture such as the social, religious, economic, and political dimensions of life. They shape and define the culture and its smaller strands. All of the strands of a culture are interconnected and influence and sustain each other.” [Introduction to anthropology and culture 2012, Kimmage development studies centre]. Europe is increasingly reaping the harvest of multicultural policies that have served to divide rather than unite.Religious Identity isn’t something you can take off in public.The European Court of Justice has, in fact, turned the headscarf into a symbol of resistance.