By Thame Deawy Thaw
“No, darling. Girls are not allowed to go further up from this point,” said Mother, stopping me from following Father who continues to climb up the stairs to reach high altar of ShweDagon Pagoda.
“No, darling. If a girl climbs up toward the top of the stupa, she will never be able to bear a child her whole life,” said Mother, and I missed my chance to see the sunset in Bagan that day during our summer vacation.
“No, darling. Please get your father’s longgyi, this is mine,” said Mother, impatient with me when she asked me to fetch a cloth to cover up our old speakers.
Being born as a girl and raised in a Burmese society is one of the life’s greatest gifts and an absolute pain in the neck. Like many other girls of the Burma-land, I grew up in my own loving society and noticed there are different social perspectives based on one’s gender that limits most of the women’s chances in current Burmese society. Different perspectives of society towards males and females undeniably have an effect on the development of Burmese Nun-hood.
Women in Burma were considered more inferior than men in the early Burmese society it seems like they still are to an extent. Such perspectives are still very apparent in our current society which, in my opinion, results in society overlooking the importance of the nuns or the nun-hood. Many raise their voice towards gender issues encountered in the economy such as occupation segregation or the pay gap; however, fail to see the society’s mild support towards nun-hood as a part of the issue.
Never have I ever been to or seen a single wedding being held at a nunnery. The majority of Burmese people prefer to choose a monastery as a venue rather than a nunnery for a wedding as an act of donation as well as a way of celebration. It is almost compulsory and the traditional way to remark one’s important event by doing so. In contrast, less support, recognition, public admiration or donations in terms of both financially and community work is received by nuns at the nunnery. Nuns being females are the one of main the reasons and it might be limiting one’s contribution towards the Nun-hood in a society where it is only cultural that females are perceived inferior. Such a complex idea or established perception towards females might have led individuals to perceive nuns as less worthy of one’s special honour or respect to show on a large skill despite their efforts in spreading and preserving religious teachings.
Never have I ever seen a long queue of cars with the golden umbrellas protruding from both sides of the windows and loud speakers at the back of the car playing traditional songs solemnly dedicated for the celebration of young girls entering nun-hood. It is a rare occasion where the majestic celebration of a young girl entering nun-hood happens independently. Too often it is celebrated and included as a sub-part of novitiation ceremony. Novitiation is a religious ceremony where young boys enter the Monk-hood and take the order of the monks. The ceremonial is regarded as a necessity for a young male. Many generous followers of Buddhism act as a guarantor of novitiation ceremony for poor young boys as an act of generosity and donation. I have not seen many contributors having the same willingness for young girls entering nun-hood or maybe they have not thought of it since it is not very common. I reckon, if society do not focus on the gender differences and have the same admiration towards the Nun-hood, there is a chance it would encourage more contributors to fund the ceremony and grant the opportunity for poor girls to enter Nun-hood as well.
Nuns practice and conserve the religion’s teachings. Nunneries also house disadvantaged girls to providing education and accommodation. Despite that, social recognition and support towards the nun’s contribution towards religion and welfare of society as I see it, are still very limited. This strong traditional division of gender in Burmese society has caused individuals to overlook the contributions and dedication of nuns towards religion, put Nun-hood in financial difficulties in order to survive and slows both the domestic and international development of the Buddhist Nun-hood.