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Buddhism for Women, Women for Buddhism: Mobilizing Grassroots Groups

Ven. Karma Lekshe Tsomo is the Branch and Chapter Coordinator of Sakyadhita International Association of Buddhist Women. In this series of seven questions we presented to her, she reflects on some key issues about Buddhist women and the long road ahead. 

B: How can Buddhist feminist groups mobilize effectively? Many already look to the grassroots organization of Sakyadhita as a model. Are there any variables that an individual organization needs to factor in, such as the region they are based in or their level of funding?

KLT: Sakyadhita encourages the establishment of grassroots Buddhist feminist groups. Sakyadhita itself has established national branches in a number of countries and has active local chapters who meet for discussion groups, Buddhist study groups, and various projects. These groups are all limited by the lack of financial support and could do much more if more resources were available. What is encouraging is a growing awareness that feminism is not a pejorative term and that Buddhist feminism is simply a compassionate response to blatant gender discrimination that urgently needs repair. We hope that women will be encouraged to gather more frequently on a grassroots level and find the tools they need to increase gender awareness in Buddhist societies.Women in different regions have different interests and concerns, determined by their circumstances. The immediate concern for women in most of Asia is how women can learn more about Buddhism, since Buddhist institutes for women are few and far between. Building Buddhist institutes requires enormous resources and skills that most Buddhist women do not have – educational resources, organizational skills, communication skills, and so on. Buddhist women’s projects are very much dependent on the scarce resources that are available to them. There’s a lot of catching up to do before Buddhist women in disadvantaged communities will be able to make big strides forward. As long as Buddhist nuns are barely scraping, why would intelligent young women want to pursue a career as a nun? By contrast, Buddhist women’s projects in more advantaged societies have resources to run kindergartens, shelters, retreats, schools, and other endeavors, some of which generate further resources and enable women to move toward self-sufficiency. In these societies, Buddhist women have an impressive track record and great potential for future achievements. 

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