Ladies are Prohibited

Display before an altar in a rural temple on Inle Lake, Shan State, Burma (Myanmar), August 2015 © ZhendeGender

Women’s access to religious sites, idols and alters is heavily restricted in many locations across Burma (Myanmar). At Mount Kyaiktiyo, among the country’s holiest sites of worship, only male pilgrims are allowed to approach the summit. Women must watch at a distance from the huge golden rock and are thus prevented from pasting squares of gold leaf onto the rock-face in the utmost sign of Buddhist devotion.

There are a number of possible reasons for this gender segregation. Women’s traditional dress can make accessing certain religious sites more difficult, so traditions developed, and have continued, based on men’s higher agility levels due to fashion. Some religious areas are controlled by a male-only monasteries where access by the opposite sex is considered sacrilegious, and long-established traditions still go unchallenged despite, and undoubtedly because of, the majority of religious figures in Burma (Myanmar) being male. Finally, women’s bodies and related items, such as clothing, are often believed to contaminate spaces and surroundings. Thus women’s belongings are kept separate from men’s belongings (during laundry, for example) and women themselves excluded from the holiest spaces and restricted from religious rituals.

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More about the people of Burma (Myanmar) in the Burma Voices Project

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