Rebel female Buddhist monks shave their heads as they continue to battle for religious rights

Alex Wheeler

Dozens of Thai women were ordained as Buddhist monks at a temple in Bangkok on Thursday (6 April), the latest ceremony in a tradition bucking the country's male-dominated Buddhist order. Getty Images photographer Roberto Schmidt has photographed Thai women as they approach their ordination, which includes a hair-cutting ceremony where the women have their heads and eyebrows shaved – a ritual preparation for their new future.

Female Buddhist monks
Female Buddhist monks

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Female Buddhist monks
Female Buddhist monks

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Taking on the disciplined lifestyle is a subversive choice for Thai women, who were not allowed to be ordained as monks until fifteen years ago. Varanggana Vanavichayen was the first Thai woman to become ordained as a Buddhist monk in 2002. Since then, dozens of Thai women have followed suit and temples, monasteries and meditations centres led by Thai bhikkhunis (female monks) have emerged in areas such as Samut Sakhon, Chiang Mai and Rayong.

There are now over 100 female monks living in monasteries in Thailand, compared to an estimated 300,000 male monks. However, Thailand's two main Theravada Buddhist orders, the Mahanikaya and Dhammayutika Nikaya, have yet to officially accept fully ordained women into their ranks.

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Female Buddhist monks
Female Buddhist monks
Female Buddhist monks
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