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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Introduction

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The origins of Bhikkhuni

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

How can Bhikkunini and Buddhism be used as effective tools to empower women in Thailand

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Discrimination that Bhikkhuni face in Thailand

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Conclusion

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.”

An Analysis of the Sustainable Development Goals from a gender perspective. How do they compare with the former Millennium Development Goals when looked at with a gender lens?

Introduction

 

On the 25th of September 2015, the United Nations General Assembly took on the 2030 agenda for Sustainable Development as the proper scheme for International Development. The Sustainable Development Goals succeeded the Millenium Development Goals. This will be a short paper evaluating and analysing how the Sustainable Development Goals compare to the previous Millenium Development Goals as well as how and if they succeed in the first place. In particular, this will be through the lens of a gender perspective.

 

 

The Millenium Development Goals

 

The Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) were a group of 8 International Development Goals to be achieved by 2015. They had been established at the Millenium Summit in 2000.The goals were: to eradicate poverty and hunger, to achieve universal primary education, to promote gender equality and empower women, to reduce child mortality, to improve maternal health, to combat  HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, to ensure environmental sustainability, to establish a global partnership for development.Each of the 189 member states of the United Nations and more than 22 International Organisations committed to trying to attain each of these goals in their countries.Many individuals and organisations complained that these were not the goals that should be focused on and that there was in fact not enough analysis given to the chosen goals. In particular Goal 3, the Goal to Promote gender equality and empower women, one of it’s primary goals was to eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education preferably by  2005 and at all levels by 2015.This was to be done by implementing fixes in a few key areas. To begin with the ratio of boys and girls in primary, secondary and tertiary education, at that time there was vast inequality and many more boys than girls studying in higher and secondary education. Next, the goals hoped to tackle the share of wages in employment in the non-agricultural sector and finally to have an equal appropriation of seats in national parliaments for women.Many argue that the Millenium Development Goals were unsuccessful in some ways, especially from a gender perspective. According to the UN MDGS Gender Chart showed how the MDGS were progressive in many ways, yet still have many issues to deal with, hopefully through the Sustainable Development Goals of 2030.For example, the MDGS were very successful regarding poverty reduction by reducing the people living in extreme poverty by over 50%.One of the MDGS goals was to achieve universal productive rights and reduce maternal mortality rates by three-quarters of the levels in 1990. The MDG achieved reducing these rates by half since 2000, yet still, one maternal death was reported every ten minutes in India, double the ambitions of the MDGs.The goals of the MDGs were based on data in the 1960s and the following of trends of where progress would happen. This clearly points out not only a failure of the UN but also a complete slowing down of movement altogether. The United Nations Development Fund said: “Inadequate funding for family planning is a major failure in fulfilling commitments to improving women’s reproductive health.” [Un representative, Un report,2012] Development ideals for the MDGs from a gender perspective could not be achieved unless the Patriarchal hierarchy can be adapted towards progression. One way that maternal death rates in Ogun were being prevented in Nigeria was by giving maternal women in remote areas cellphones. However, whenever the phones were called, it was their father or husband who answered.The phones were already being confiscated from the women and giving the phone to women from then on was pointless. Scenarios like this and other are hoped to be prevented with the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

 

The Sustainable Development Goals

As mentioned before on the 25th of September 2015, the United Nations General Assembly took on the 2030 agenda for Sustainable Development. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are planned to supersede the MDGs in some ways. The SDGs have been designed to be more comprehensive in scope, transformative for the planet and will be able to be universally applied. The MDGs were focused only on developing nations as opposed to before where the focus was almost solely on developing countries. Goal number 5 of the SDGs is to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. This Goal is similar to Goal 3 of the MDGs. However, they do differ in some ways. The SDGs were formed mostly by people in the areas where the goals are to be implemented as opposed to the MDG’s which were drawn up in the UN headquarters. This a move which shows the UN trust to experts in the field rather than only office staff who may not have as many hands on experience where development is to be made. The example that was shown before of the mobile phones being taken from women in Ogun can be better implemented. The MDGs were not prepared for such situations, but  by relying on more in-depth consultation, the SDGs can help promote gender equality where development failed before. The SDGs plan to empower women more so than the MDG’s ever did by working much more closely than civil society organisations. Empowerment can be defined as a “multi-dimensional social process that helps people gain control over their own lives. It is a process that fosters power (that is, the capacity to implement) in people, for use in their own lives, their communities, and in their society, by acting on issues that they define as important” [Directorate –general for internal policies, policy department C, citizens rights and constitutional affairs]. In fact, according to UN World Survey on the Role of Women in Development 2014,” there are proven synergies between women’s empowerment and economic, social and environmental sustainability.” [Directorate –general for internal policies, policy department C, citizens rights and constitutional affairs].

 

 

 

 

Conclusion

There were many complications with the Millennium Development Goals. People argued that they were poorly implemented and did not gain the results they were intended to. They  did, however, help promote gender inequality in some ways “As of October 2013, women were 21.8 percent of parliamentarians in single or lower houses and 19.4 per cent of Senate or upper houses, up from 12 per cent and 10.1 per cent in January 1997, respectively.”[UN women.com, progress towards meeting the MDGs for women.] and “Gender parity in schooling worldwide is closest to being achieved at the primary level; however, only 2 out of 130 countries have achieved that target at all levels of education.”[MDG3, unwomen.org]. In the numerous areas that the MDGs failed to promote true gender equality, the SDGs are hoped to succeed. Development will be worked towards on a case by case basis rather than devised from UN headquarters. It is entirely possible that the SDGs will encourage equality more than before, they give individuals agency that they never had with the MDGs, it will be 2030 however before the results are shown.

 

The formation of identity in Thailand

Identity

 

This will be a short presentation on the formation if identity in Thailand. The presentation will look at how not only identity has been developed, but also how it has been maintained throughout history. The focus will not, however, be solely on a National level but also from an ethnic identity viewpoint.

 

 

Thai National Identity

 

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 “Land of the free” In the past 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. For example, many of the “hill tribes” in Thailand may be Christian or follow traditional religious practices. They do however pay respect to monks and often offer alms during ceremonies. Buddhism in Thailand is practised very differently compared to how Buddhism is practised in other many other countries such as in Japan, China and Vietnam. Each country practices Buddhism but in a very different way. For example, if the Dalai Lama came to Thailand he would have to sit down with the lay people as his position is not recognised in Theravada Buddhism.  In Japan there are not nearly as many images of Buddha compared to Thailand and if there are they are often quite plain and not extravagant and often painted and jewelled as they are in Thailand. As is shown it is distinctly Thai Buddhism that contributes to Thai people’s identity not the Buddhist faith itself with 95% following Theravada Buddhism. Thailand is a very Hierarchal society, If you are born into a  “High-so”  family as they are typically referred to her you, your sense of identity is of course very different than if you are born into a “Low-so” family. Being in a “High-so” family often individuals may have a feeling that they are held above ” Low-so” families. This is not through that particular person’s fault but rather how society has helped shape their identity. An individuals Identity as we know does often change in adolescence as people are exposed to new groups of individuals. When they leave the “bubble” of the social class and meet people from different backgrounds, religions and classes. This change happens not only throughout High School but all the way through to young adulthood.  Steinberg sums up the adolescence journey to identity perfectly by saying:”The development of a strong and stable sense of self is widely considered to be one of the central tasks of adolescence. Despite the fact that identity development occurs throughout one’s lifetime, adolescence is the first time that individuals begin to think about how our identity may affect our lives. During adolescence, we are much more self-conscious about our changing identities than at any other stage in our lives” Steinberg, L. (2008). Adolescence. New York: McGraw-Hill. Families are close in Thailand and are often held above all else, maintaining strong relationships throughout their entire lives.

 

Ethnic Identity

 

There are numerous Ethnic groups in Thailand  according to Reach To Teach” Of Thailand’s nearly 70 million people, roughly two-thirds are from Thai ethnic groups. Although the ethnic Thai people can be divided into dozens of different subgroups, their traditions, languages, and cultures differ only slightly. This leads to a population with a strong sense of shared traditions and cultural identity. The remaining third of the population is made up primarily of Chinese, as well as various minorities including Vietnamese, Khmer, Hmong, and Mein. Even among these diverse ethnic groups, the Thai language is widely spoken and understood, and the Thai script is often used in place of traditional writing styles.[Reachtoteachrecruiting.com,2016].There is also many much smaller ethnic groups throughout Thailand, many who may not even be citizens but have lived in Thailand for hundreds of years. The Karen people for example ” Current debates on Karen identity have tended to focus on the development of a nationalist construct of a pan-Karen community”[Rachel Sharpes,2015]. Many Karen people are Thai and are citizens but identify as Karen more than being Thai. Many ethnic groups such as the Karen live in the mountainous North of Thailand.  As the Thai government started cracking down on the growing of poppies(for opium and heroin production) many had to move further down the mountains Now the majority of Karen people still live in the mountains but do however go to lowland cities for work or grow cash crops in the hills. There has been in the past some problems of course between different groups Although the population of Thailand is relatively homogeneous—regionalism and ethnic differences are issues that are socially and politically significant. Moreover, these differences affect the access of specific groups and regions to economic and other resources, which in turn heightened ethnic or regional consciousness”[Library of congress]. Through all of this, the Karen and others have still kept a  strong sense of cultural identity. Many Karen people are Buddhist, but the majority are Christian and follow animistic beliefs. Sgaw, Pwo, and Pa’o on top of this, almost everyone speaks Thai. If there is a temple or a monk near a village they are still paid a high level of respect, given alms and offerings. This shows how the identity of many ethnic groups has changed since they first arrived in Thailand several hundred years ago.It is true each has their own customs and beliefs but are still very much living in Thailand and follow at least some of the Thai traditions. This is not characteristic for Karen people in other parts of the world. Karen people in America do not pay respect to Buddhist monks in America.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Conclusion

 

A sense of Identity is formed throughout our entire lives, always changing and adapting. We are born into an identity in some ways, some people with opportunities that people are not. This does not define us however as we are exposed to new groups and cultures our own identity changes, especially as young adults. For example, the Karen people as were shown, very much have their own identity. They are also Thai however. Karen people in America and Karen people in Thailand are as different in many ways as American and Thais are. Our identity is formed by those around us and our social environment, always changing, growing and adapting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Why the Chipko Movement is more important than ever.

The Chipko movement is a forest conservation movement that began in India, 1973. It pioneered many environmental changes that we have today. The Chipko movement arose in a time when there were few or no major environmental groups in India. At the start of the Chipko movement, it practised the Gandhian methods of Satyagraha. Since […]

The Chipko movement is a forest conservation movement that began in India, 1973. It pioneered many environmental changes that we have today. The Chipko movement arose in a time when there were few or no major environmental groups in India. At the start of the Chipko movement, it practised the Gandhian methods of Satyagraha. Since then it has become more of an eco-feminist orientated campaign. Eco-feminism tries to heal the divide between culture and denture that has become exceedingly apparent over the last few decades; this will be done through the feminine instinct for nurture and nature.

We need more movements like the Chipko movement now more than ever. A time when it is estimated within the next one hundred years, there will be no rainforests left whatsoever when 20% of the world’s oxygen is produced by the Amazon forest alone. Although forests still cover roughly thirty percent of the earth, we lose an area roughly equivalent to the size of Panama in forested land every year, not only this but over two hundred million people actually live in forest land, and another one and a half billion people depend on forest directly for survival.

Many movements now get much more attention now thanks to the progression of social media. Getting a share or a like on Facebook certainly, brings environmental issues to people’s attention but does not change the issues at its core. As St Augustine said, “there is a difference between knowing the good and loving the good”. The Chipko movement arose at a time when there were no other movements or social media, they instead arose and have inspired so many movements since then. Not only in India but around the world. Their stances of feminism were far ahead of their time, and feminism now, more than ever, truly is for everyone.

Edugeen, available online at-http://edugreen.teri.res.in/explore/forestry/chipko.htm [Accessed7/12/16]

Greenpeace why deforestation still matters, available online at – http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/6-reasons-stopping-deforestation-still-matters/  [Accessed7/12/16]

Women in world history, available online at – http://www.womeninworldhistory.com/contemporary-04.html [Accessed7/12/16]chipko-movement-1-638

Brief Brief on Gender Inequality in Thailand

In 2011, Thailand ranked 69th out of 143 countries in the Gender Inequality Index. The Gender Inequality Index mainly focuses on topics such as sex segregation and employer discrimination. During the last several decades the Thai Government and Non-Government Organisations have put many motions in place trying to change their ranking on the Gender Inequality Index.

 

 

 

In Thailand, the structure of gender relations suitable same for hundreds of years, with women being caretakers of the family and men taking care of the household financially.Thailand, however, had a massive shift in their social and economic structure in the 1960’s which changed gender relations in the country. The change in gender relations was due to a massive influx of American culture due to the war in Vietnam.Even the relatively small city that I live in had an American military base. Until this point, only the elite in society had any exposure to Western culture in any way. Many Thai people being exposed to these new ideals were drawn to the new and modern ways; this ended in the traditional Thai rural family unit, something of the past and people looked for a fortune in many of the major cities such as Bangkok.

 

 

 

There are three ways in which Thailand still has to make progress; this is reproductive health, empowerment, and economic activity.Regarding reproductive health,  too many women are dying from maternal causes. Too many adolescent women are still giving birth. With roughly 48 women dying in every hundred thousand dying from pregnancy-related causes and 43 out of every 1,000 births being those by adolescents(15-19).Empowerment for females is also still an issue as only 14% of all parliament seats are held by women, and with regards to education, only 25% of women have attained at least secondary school education. Economically women in Thailand still had a labour force of 65% as of 2011.

 

 

 

Due to Thailand dramatic Western influence in the 1960’s Thailand changes from an agricultural to an industrial economy.Now women in Thailand hold 50% of the employment rate.

 

The breakdown of occupations can be shown:

 

 

 

Men-

 

 

 

Agricultural (55.8%)

Mining and quarrying (83.6%)

Public administration and defence (64.0%)

Water supply (69.7%)

Construction (84.6%)

Transportation storage (86.9%)

Information and communication (64.8%)

Professional, Scientific and Technical (52.4%)

Administrative and support services (57.7%)

Electricity, gas, stream supply industry (81.17%).

 

 

Women-

 

Accommodation and food service (64.2%)

Financial and insurance activities (55.5%)

Real estate activities (55.7%)

Education (61.1%)

Human health and social work (75.9%)

Activities of household employers (82.1%)

Activities in international organisations (100.0%)

Other service activity industry (55.3%).

 

 

From personal experience, there does seem to be very much a “glass ceiling” in Thailand.Part of my job is to travel to various schools, almost every time the Directors, Vice Directors and Heads of Departments are men, even when many women have been working at the school for many years and are much more experienced more than them.

 

 

There have definitely been improvements, however. As was mentioned before due to the Western influence Thailand changed dramatically during the 1960’s. This did break down many of the traditional Thai family social norms. However, some of these changes were progressive. These changes allowed women to start and education and eventually a career. These changes allowed women to not only serve their families but server themselves. It is true that women still face opposition and many a “glass ceiling”, the salaries are still not the same, women still are often sold by their families and women must often do what is best for their family. In 2011, Yingluck Shinawatra was elected as the first ever female Prime Minister of Thailand, something which would not even be a concept in the 1800’s.Thailand has a long way to go regarding gender equality, but for now, at least it is moving in the right direction.