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Thailand's Buddhist nuns fight for equality

Female monastics gain support despite disapproval from patriarchal institution

A procession of <i>bhikkhuni</i> makes its way to a hall at the Nirotharam monastery for the ordination of eight <i>maechi</i>, or ordinary nuns, to the next spiritual level. (Photo by Denis Gray)

TALAD MAI, Thailand To Thailand's top Buddhist authority, the barefoot, ocher-robed women are defiant rebels. But in this northern village, and elsewhere across the country, the faithful bow reverently and offer armfuls of food to these fully ordained female monastics as they proceed on their early morning alms round.

Although far fewer than the approximately 200,000 male monks, the bhikkhuni are gaining strength both in numbers and public support, despite the official rejection. They are also becoming agents for reform of a religious establishment plagued by corruption and lurid scandals, and run by an ossified body of aged men who forbid elevation of women from ordinary nuns to a status equivalent to that of monks, or bhikkhu.

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