Social Inequalities and the Promotion of Women in Buddhism in Thailand

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 25, 2018

Social Inequalities and the Promotion of Women in Buddhism in Thailand

Manuel Litalien
Nipissing University

Studies have shown that religion can support or hinder social development (Haynes 2007; Tomalin 2013). This article makes a case in favor of how, in Thailand, the demands for greater justice and gender equality have engaged groups of women to seek higher Buddhist ordination as a means to better promote human and social development. Equal religious philanthropic contribution between men and women is presented as a component to democratic participation in the struggling political Kingdom of Thailand. The study finds that the women’s Buddhist movement in Thailand capitalizes on the limited welfare resources offered by the government, along with the current institutionalized politics of religious diversity, as defined in the Thai constitution. To present the inequalities and challenges faced by Thai Buddhist women, the function of the Thai Buddhist monastic community (saṅgha) will be portrayed as an organization promoting an “inequality regime.” The governing structural configuration of the saṅgha will be presented as reinforcing social roles divided by oppressive gender conceptions. The Buddhist institution’s inequality regime will be depicted in light of its refusal to ordain bhikkhunīs. The exclusion of Thai Buddhist nuns is situated in eight different lenses: namely, biological, ritual, scriptural, cultural, political, institutional, historical, and legal contexts. Finally, the vital sustainable core to these women is introduced as both a global and a local network of Buddhist women. This is better known as a glocalization strategy for the promotion of gender equality in Theravāda Buddhism.
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