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Officially, only men can become monks and novices in Thailand under a Buddhist order that since 1928 has forbidden the ordination women. The country does not recognise female monks or novices.
One option for devout Thai women is to become white-clad Buddhist nuns, who follow a less-strict religious regimen than monks and are often relegated to housekeeping tasks in temples. Read more ‘Beloved princes’ to Buddhist novices – a rite of passage in Thailand
In recent years, more Thai Buddhist women seeking to become fully-fledged “bhikkunis”, or female monks, have been defying the tradition by pursuing the other option: getting ordained overseas, usually in Sri Lanka or India.
Dhammananda Bhikkhuni, the 74-year-old abbess of the Songdhammakalyani monastery, flew to Sri Lanka to be ordained in 2001 as Thailand’s first female monk.
Since then, she has helped women like Boodsabann join the Buddhist order as novices at the monastery’s ordination ceremonies every April and December. Boodsabann Chanthawong works with her husband at her stall near her house, days after she ended her novice monkhood (Reuters)
“It’s been 90 years and the social context has changed, but they still don’t accept us,” Dhammananda told Reuters in an interview at the temple’s library, where an entire shelf is dedicated to books about women’s rights and role in religion.
“It’s a shame that women aren’t allowed to make decisions for their own lives. You have to rebel against injustice because this is not right,” she added. Shape Thailand's rebel female Buddhist monks defy tradition Show all 20