Do Buddhist Nuns Deserve Better?
June 14, 2022
| By Soraya Deen

I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”   – Audre Lorde

In the name of religion one in four girls are married off as child brides. In NE Nigeria polygamy is rampant and thriving. Honor killings and forced conversions claim about 1000 lives a year in Pakistan, while blasphemy laws have targeted Christian minority women like Asia Bibi. National policy, state laws, tradition & customs – often subtle, complex and hidden;  perpetuate discriminate against women and girls, violating fundamental human rights.

Since1985, three thousand Sri Lankan female Buddhist Bhikkhunis nuns have been denied  identification cards, even though Bhikkhunis trained & ordained in Sri Lanka , successfully run monasteries in the United States and Europe.

There’s been a flourishing Bhikkhuni order in Sri Lanka for nearly 10 centuries, and then the lineage faded. For an identity card to be issued to a Bhikkhuni, they need unanimous approval from the four chief prelates of the country’s main Buddhist Orders. That approval has been denied. The denial of a national Identity card to Sri Lankan Bhikkhunis is a breach of the Sri Lankan Constitution and Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights governing the freedom of religion or belief. Without an identity card, the nuns can’t open a bank account, take a national examination or do basic business transactions for their faith communities.

This short film portrays the plight of the Sri Lankan female Buddhist Bhikkhunis nuns.Hidden Identities: The Forgotten Women of Ceylon.

As a Sri Lankan born lawyer, international activist and a community organizer, I care deeply about the dignity and human rights of women of faith. Freedom of religion or belief is not about protecting a religion. It is not protecting conservative and patriarchal religious traditions and values. It is about protecting individual freedom. The UN has declared that ensuring women’s participation at all levels is central to peace and security, building strong economies, propelling businesses operations and establishing more stable and just societies. Women must be free to interpret and practice their faith against orthodoxy, without coercion and discrimination.


Soraya Dean is the founder of The Muslim Women Speakers, member of the International Religious Freedom Round Table and Co-Chair of the IRF Roundtable Women’s Working Group in the United States. Her film, Hidden Identities: The Forgotten Women of Ceylon, was awarded the 2022 Global Religious Women’s Empowerment and Religious Freedom Award.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of FoRB Women’s Alliance.

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