This article is from Prachatai, an independent news site in Thailand, and is republished on Global Voices as part of a content-sharing agreement.
While Thailand has around 300,000 Buddhist monks, women are still mostly barred from being ordained on Thai soil. In 1928, after the attempted ordination of two women, Prince Bhujong Jombunud Sirivaḍḍhano, then the Supreme Patriarch of Thailand, issued an edict forbidding monks from ordaining women as monks or novices. The Sangha Supreme Council of Thailand also issued two rulings in 1984 and 1987 forbidding the ordination of women. However, the Sangha Act of 1962, the secular law governing Thai monastics, and the 1992 amendment do not prohibit the ordination of women.
Moreover, the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand (NHRC) ruled in 2015 that the Sangha Supreme Council’s prohibition of the ordination of women is a violation of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), to which Thailand is a state party. NHRC also ruled that such prohibition is in violation of the Thai Constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), both of which protect freedom of religion.
Dhammananda’s efforts to re-establish the Theravada bhikkhuni lineage in Thailand have been met with resistance from both the laity and monks who are against ordaining women, most of whom have claimed that the ordination of women is not possible as the Theravada bhikkhuni lineage has already died out. ‘Bhikkhuni’ refers to a fully ordained female monastic. Despite the lack of secular law prohibiting the ordination of women, bhikkunis are seen as a foreign tradition and the two main Buddhist orders in Thailand have yet to officially accept ordained women as part of the Sangha – the Buddhist community of monastics.
Dhammananda is currently the abbess of the Songdhammakalyani Monastery in Nakhon Pathom, founded by her mother Voramai Kabilsingh, who was ordained as a monk in the Taiwanese Dharmaguptaka lineage in 1971, receiving the religious name Ta Tao Fa Tzu. The monastery is currently Thailand’s only all-female temple. Varanggana Vanavichayen, the first woman to be ordained as a monk on Thai soil, was ordained at the Songdhammakalyani Monastery in 2002.
However, the Thai authorities do not recognize the monastery as a Buddhist temple, and when Dhammananda and other monks from the monastery went to pay respect to the late King Bhumibol at the Dusit Maha Prasat Throne Hall, where his body lay in state, they were denied entry. The officials claimed that they were turned away on the grounds that it is illegal for women to wear the saffron robe under Thai Buddhism. 22 other female monks and novices were also turned away after being told that they would be only be allowed to pay their respect to the late King if they removed their robes and wore the regular black clothing of laypeople.
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