Sakyadhita and the International Movement for Gender Equity in Buddhism

Wednesday, July 16, 2014: 3:30 PM
Room: Harbor Lounge B
Oral Presentation
Karma Lekshe TSOMO , University of San Diego
During the 1980s, the glaring discrepancies between opportunities for women and men in Buddhist institutions and societies caught the attention of a small group of women living in different countries and practicing in different Buddhist traditions. Communicating by post, they decided to gather to discuss what could be done to address these inequalities. In 1987, at the conclusion of this first gathering in Bodhgaya, India, an international association of Buddhist women called Sakyadhita was founded. Since then, Sakyadhita has received scant attention from the academic community, but the consequences for women in Buddhist societies have resounded around the world. For twenty-five years, Sakyadhita has organized a series of biennial conferences and issued numerous publications that have educated Buddhists in the new global ethic of gender justice. The path to gender equity in Buddhist communities and institutions has not always been smooth, however. Consciously or unconsciously, entrenched interest groups continue their efforts to maintain the imbalance of power that disenfranchises women.

This paper explores how a small grassroots movement to improve conditions for neglected and undereducated women, especially nuns, has grown into a global movement to challenge inequalities on a structural and institutional level, recounting landmarks in the history and development of Sakyadhita and the international Buddhist women’s movement from its inception until the present. In the first section, I describe the objectives of Sakyadhita and the key personalities who have helped propel the global movement for gender equity in Buddhist societies. Second, I explore the setbacks and obstacles that Buddhist women have faced over the years and continue to face in their struggle for gender justice today. Third, I trace the major achievements of the international Buddhist women’s movement precipitated and explore potential directions and strategies that Sakyadhita has mapped out for the future.