Female Buddhist monks demand equal rights

After being barred from paying their respects to the late King at the Grand Palace, Bhikkhunis — female Buddhist monks in Thailand — have urged the junta leader to amend laws discriminating against female monks.   

On 6 February 2017, a group of Bhikkhunis and Paiboon Nititawan, a former Senator and chair of a committee for the protection of Buddhism in the now-defunct National Reform Council, submitted a petition to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).

The group urged the NHRC to communicate to the Prime Minister and related authorities human rights violations reported by Bhikkhunis to the Commission earlier in 2015.  

In the complaint, Bhikkhunis stated that they suffer from gender discrimination since they are not recognised as Buddhist monks by the Supreme Sangha Council of Thailand, the administrative body of Thailand’s Buddhist monasteries.  

The 1962 Sangha Act prohibits women from being ordained as Buddhist monks. Though Thai monastic law forbids the ordination of Bhikkhunis, it is not prohibited under the Buddhist Vinaya, the Buddhist monastic code of conduct.

The ordination of female Buddhist monks has existed since the time of the Lord Buddha, said Paiboon.   

One of the Bhikkhunis in the group said that she just wants her right to participate in religion to be recognised, adding that she did not encounter any problems 15 years ago when she became a Mae Chi (a devout laywoman, often referred to as a ‘nun’). However, her life became more difficult after she decided to be ordained as a Bhikkhuni.

In December 2016, a group of Bhikkhunis from Nakhon Pathom was prohibited from paying their respects to the late King Bhumibol at the Grand Palace in Bangkok. They were also called ‘illegal’ and reprimanded for wearing saffron robes reserved for male Theravada Buddhist monks in Thailand.

Earlier in November 2016, Bhikkhunis from the southern province of Songkhla were also barred from entering the Grand Palace to participate in the late monarch’s funeral ceremony. They were told their participation was illegal.    

What Tingsamitr, NHRC chairman, accepts the petition from Paiboon Nititawan and a group of Bhikkhunis

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