Maechi

Most maechis live on temple grounds. The temple may provide daily meals and lodging but, in general, maechis are expected to provide for themselves through support from relatives and temples do not care for them as they do male monastics. Most maechis essentially act as servants or staff for the temple, cooking and cleaning for monks and overseeing the sale of incense and other offerings to visitors to the temple.

Smaller numbers of maechis live in their own communities, which may or may not be associated with a local monastery. Women in these communities often experience better conditions than those living in traditional monasteries. The separation of the male and female renunciants helps discourage the maechis being used as servants by monks and temple staff.

Historically, little is known about the status and lives of maechis prior to Western contact with the kingdoms that preceded the modern state of Thailand. European observers in the 17th century reported seeing white-robed, shaven-headed women who lived on the grounds of Buddhist temples. Most of these women were reported to be advanced in years, possibly indicating that life as a maechi may have served as a sort of retirement plan for older women who did not have families to provide for them. Records from prior to this time do not explicitly mention maechis in Thailand; it is likely that some records were lost in the destruction of the Ayutthaya Kingdom in the 18th century. The marginalization of the maechis in Thai society may also play a role in their exclusion from the historical record.

The institute seeks to improve conditions for maechis by providing better access to education, and screening and placing potential maechis and seeks to ensure that all maechis possess basic knowledge of Buddhist teachings and proper monastic behavior. The institute has also attempted to discourage maechi from begging for alms as monks do. Instead, older maechis (who are particularly at risk for poverty) are increasingly placed in old-age homes.