Coinciding with International Women’s Day on 8 March, the International Women’s Meditation Center Foundation (IWMCF) announced its yearly awards for outstanding women in Buddhism from its headquarters in Rayong, Thailand. This year, 20 women, including laywomen and monastics from around the world, were honored with the awards.
The complete list of recipients and their countries of origin for the 2022 Outstanding Women in Buddhism Award:
• Merry (Nan) Kham Oo, Myanmar
• Bhikkhuni Surindra, Thailand
• Bhikkhuni Dr. Jian Hui, Taiwan
• Bhikkhuni Tsung-Tueng, Thailand
• Bhikkhuni Der-Chia, Taiwan
• Mei Yun Tang, Taiwan
• Maechee Orawan Maneeratanachot, Thailand
• Ching Yi Chi, Taiwan
• Maechee Pittsayaputt Vhititthiranun, Thailand
• Mingli C. Shih, Taiwan
• Dr. Pamela Ayo Yetunde, USA
• Saijai Wannual, Thailand
• Bhikkhuni Khenmo Drolma, USA
• Bhikkhuni Choejin Samdrup, Thailand
• Chen Yun Chang, Taiwan
• Gawa Khandro, Canada
• Martine Batchelor, France
• Bhikkhuni Liao Guo, China
• Thanissara, UK
• Kim Behan, USA
The accomplishments and future plans of each award-winner are listed on the IWMCF website, as are past winners back to 2002.
The awards were founded by two Buddhist nuns, Thai Bhikkhuni Rattanavali and American Bhikkhuni Dr. Lee, after attending two events in 2001. These were the Outstanding Women’s Awards in Thailand, organized by the Gender and Development Research Institute, and an invited speech offered by Ven. Bhikkhuni Dr. Lee at the United Nations in Bangkok in honor of International Women’s Day on 8 March 2001.
From there, the two began speaking with one another and other leading Buddhist women around the world, and soon the first awards in 2002 were planned. For the first two years, the awards were given at the Association for the Promotion of the Status of Women, an organization founded in Thailand in 1974 to promote the welfare of women and children.
For several years afterward, the awards were given at the United Nations’ Conference Center in Bangkok before returning to the Association for the Promotion of the Status of Women and then different venues. The 2020 awards were postponed due to the pandemic and the 2021 awards were hosted via Zoom from the Heartwood Refuge in North Carolina.
Awards are given for excellence in a number of categories, including meditative practice, social work and community development, Dharma propagation—such as Dharma writings, academic work, and media appearances—and peace activism. Buddhist women are nominated each year and then selected after their merits are examined by a dozen committee members.
The awards serve a number of purposes, including uplifting the voices of exceptional Buddhist women. After the event this year, organizers plan to broaden their work to include a global women’s empowerment network.
Dr. Lee said: “Networking, collaboration, visits, study tours, etc., are all part of this phase.” (Tricycle)
The International Women’s Meditation Center, located in a rural area 20 kilometers east of Rayong—some 200 kilometers southeast of Bangkok—on the Gulf of Thailand, is the only temple dedicated to female monastics (bhikkhunis) in the eastern part of the country.
Theravada Buddhism is Thailand’s predominant religion, with 94.5 per cent of the population identifying as Buddhists, according to the 2015 census. Islam and Christianity are the largest minority religions, with 4.29 per cent and 1.17 per cent of the population, respectively. Despite a long history of Buddhist practice, there has never been an officially recognized order of female monastics in the country. Work is underway to change this, and today several fully ordained female monastics live in the country. The most well-known female monk is likely Dhammananda Bhikkhuni, Thailand’s first female monk, who was named one of the world’s 100 most inspiring and influential women of 2019.*
The International Women’s Meditation Center Foundation Honors Outstanding Women in Buddhism (Tricycle)
Outstanding Women in Buddhism 2022 (International Women’s Meditation Center Foundation)
Most Venerable Bhikkhuni Dr. Lee – Bhikkhunis Magazine (YouTube)
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From Hearts to Hearts: An Interview with Ven. Dhammananda Bhikkhuni
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