Are Asians Against Nuns?

On his blog, Ajahn Sujato was asked if the sexism he described in the English Sangha Trust reflected an Asian British mentality—“That’s the only configuration that I can imagine would create this governing body. The women’s rights movement took birth in England.” Ajahn Sujato responds:

The EST is not comprised of Asian British, it is an old-school organization which has, so far as I am aware, always been made up primarily of ‘English British’.

This is an important point, for it is often misunderstood that ‘Asians’ will be less interested in a fair go for women, and that the socially progressive movement will be stimulated by the West. This is very far from the case. I know several Asian women whose active support for bhikkhuni ordination was stimulated by their shock at seeing how discriminated the nuns in England were.

For most of the Asian Buddhist world, bhikkhunis are a normal part of life. They are an integral part of Buddhism in lands east and north of Thailand, and have become widely accepted by the Sri Lankan people (who, may I add, are among our major supporters here at Santi).

There is a popular racist argument that assumes that the West couldn’t possibly be sexist, that the bhikkhuni issue is really an Asian problem. This notion can be defended by anecdote. I have personally witnessed sexism as an entrenched issue within several Asian societies, and I also recognize the great advances in the West towards gender equality over the last century. My mother was raised to find a husband and pop out kids—when she retired, she was making more money than my father. But that’s not to say that Asia is sexist while the West is post-gender. (Tell that to Hillary Clinton!) There are anecdotes, there are trends, and there are racist conclusions—it is important not to confuse these. Best to steer clear of the latter.