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

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.

 

Mens role in promoting gender equality

Going on what others having been saying, and the TED talk by  Katz. I truly believe that Katz was correct by saying that when people think of gender equality, they often are only thinking of promoting equal rights for women.  However gender refers to both men and women, people often think women when they hear the word gender. This is the same way in which people hear sexual orientation they often think homosexuality, we don’t often hear people describing heterosexuality as a sexual orientation.

I do believe that men are pivotal to promoting gender equality between men and women. In many cases pivotal in ways that women cannot be, “locker room chat” and “guy talk ” are areas in women would have a harder time to confront. When a man hears degrading talk about women it must be addressed there and then, this is not as easily done however in a dominant masculine society. As Katz mentioned in their TED talk.Men must be made to feel that they must not act controlling so as they will not be controlling. This is not only controlling towards women but towards other men also. The majority of abuse against men is of course by other men, the road to gender equality is not only aiding women but men also, hence equality.

Men can make progress in a number of ways, most notably the workplace. Take parental leave, for example, the majority of men do not take it, even when offered.

“Not only do too few companies consider extending paid leave to new fathers, when they do, men rarely take advantage of the entire leave. While a 2011 study of men at large companies found that approximately 85% of new fathers take some time off after the birth of a child, the vast majority of them only took off a week or two. And a study of 2011 study of college professors found that only 12% of fathers took paid parental leave when it was offered, compared with 69% of mothers.”

This not only perpetuates the idea that it should only be women who should take maternal leave but also stops other men from the possibility of spending more time with their children, even if they wanted to. They may feel that they may be “emasculated”. This can also hold women back from career progression in a number of ways. Employers may feel that they would give a promotion to a man over a woman because she has the possibility of taking maternity leave and he would not. Paternal leave is just one of a number of ways on how men can help promote gender equality in the workplace.

As for the people claiming that feminists are anti-men, these quite often are not people who are trying to promote gender equality. Feminists, real feminist are trying to promote gender equality and not female superiority. These are entirely different ideas and yet are so strangely often confused. More often than not it may be a struggle for power, male patriarchs feel that some feminists are gaining power for themselves and social change and therefore will lose some of their own power.  This is true, power does not dissipate but rather changes directions. In this way, it would flow towards women, not threatening men but rather make them equal. As women progress towards gender equality men are aided also as they are becoming more who they are and not what society has told them to be.