Current Situation of Nuns in Bhutan
Girls and women in Bhutan become nuns to seek a peaceful, selfless and spiritual life. They are inspired by the belief that as nuns they can contribute to the well being and happiness of all sentient beings through direct action or, at the very least, through their prayers. There are also those in the nunneries who have come purely for refuge from extreme poverty, overwhelming social challenges, loss of family and deprivation. Many have also joined and many more will continue to find their way into the nunneries in search of alternative education. While a few of them come from the middle class, the majority of them come from poor homes and receives no support of any kind from their families.
For most of Bhutan’s nuns, life is very harsh. Most nunneries are located in very remote areas. They often lack clean water, electricity, bathrooms for sanitation, and adequate nutrition in their daily meals. If a nun becomes ill, she often must hike for three hours or more to reach the nearest health center. Basic living conditions usually are very poor. Nuns often lack basic essentials, such as a dry room for sleeping and private places to study and perform daily meditation practice. The physical structures of many nunneries are seriously dilapidated and some are even structurally unsafe.
Unlike the monasteries for men and boys that are beneficiaries of state or private support, nunneries in Bhutan receive no government funding. Private and community support is also extremely limited leaving the girls and women in many nunneries vulnerable and neglected. It is sad that so little of their potential to serve society and contribute to its collective happiness is ever realized. That such a paradoxical situation should prevail in a country which prides itself over an absence of gender bias has never been explained. One can only rationalize that this has to do with lack of resources and too many competing needs in a poor, least developed country.
Overall, almost none of Bhutan’s nunneries provide a proper learning environment. There is great potential and passion for nuns to receive a good education at nunneries. However, the nunneries do not have any standardized curriculum or evaluation systems. Above all, they do not have qualified teachers who are committed or have the capability to give them a proper education either for spiritual enrichment or for a productive lay life upon leaving the nunneries.
Improving nuns’ living conditions and education will greatly assist in Bhutan’s drive to achieve ‘Education For All’ within the framework of GNH. A significant number of young women become nuns throughout Bhutan at some stage of their life. As a result, it is critical that this group receives proper attention. Nuns also play a crucial role in preserving Bhutan’s traditions and culture, and thus are critical to achieving GNH. This philosophy in essence is all about balancing material wants with spiritual needs. It appears that a woman who has spent some part of her life pursuing spirituality is likely to live her own life in moderation and contribute to the happiness of others in a world where consumer ethics prevail. Throughout the country, nuns serve as role models for grassroots women. This is especially significant now, as outside influences severely impact the traditional values of Bhutan. Helping the nuns will benefit all women and girls in Bhutan, especially in rural areas.
The World Education Forum (held in Dakar, 2000) has come to be seen as the most important education event at the dawn of the 21st century. This forum reaffirmed education as a fundamental human right and set the ambitious goal of achieving Education For All (EFA) by 2015. Despite progress in expanding educational opportunities around the world and particularly in the Third World, recent reviews highlight critical gaps in equity of access and outcomes for girls and the rural poor.
A 1999 World Bank Report estimated that over 150 million children aged six to eleven years did not attend school. The majority of these children are in the developing world. Over 60% of children out of school are girls. In South Asia, there are large gender gaps and other inequities related to access to school and education. This occurs even though research has shown that investing in girls’ education yields higher economic and social returns than investing in boys’ education. Developing countries such as Bhutan are beginning to accept that girls’ education and women’s literacy must be factored into every development strategy if strategies are to succeed and enhance quality of life.