The increasing influence and relevance of Buddhism in a global society have given rise to a vibrant and evolving movement, particularly in the West, loosely called Socially Engaged Buddhism. Today many look to Buddhism for an answer to one of the most crucial issues of all time—eradicating discrimination against women. There is general agreement that Buddhism does not have a reformist agenda or an explicit feminist theory. This paper explores this issue from a Theravāda Buddhist perspective using the scriptures as well as recent work by Western scholars conceding that there are deep seated patriarchal and even misogynistic elements reflected in the ambivalence towards women in the Pāli Canon and bias in the socio-cultural and institutionalized practices that persist to date in Theravāda Buddhist countries. However, Buddha’s acceptance of a female monastic order and above all his unequivocal affirmation of their equality in intellectual and spiritual abilities in achieving the highest goals clearly establish a positive stance. This paper also contends that while social and legal reforms are essential, it is meditation that ultimately uproots the innate conditioning of both the oppressors and the oppressed as the Dhamma at its pristine and transformative core is genderless.

Author Biography

Chand R. Sirimanne is currently a PhD student at the University of Sydney, Australia and submitted her thesis on The relevance and therapeutic value of the ethico-psychological perspective of the mind-body complex and meditation in Theravāda Buddhism today in October 2016. She has been working as a freelance writer/editor and ESL instructor of adults in Australia, Sri Lanka and Canada for many years, and has translated and written several articles on Buddhism.