Can only men become priests or swamis in the Krishna Movement and, if so, why? Why can’t women become swamis?
In traditional Vedic or Vaishnava culture, a priest is not necessarily a swami or sannyasi. Since ancient times, brahmanas have served as priests, and they have the option to marry or remain single. There are thousands of women in ISKCON who serve as brahmana priests. They perform sacred rites on the altar, attend the Deities, lead weekly services, give lectures etc. We also have many women who serve as community leaders, temple presidents, and members of our international governing body. An outstanding woman, Mukhya Devi, is the president of our largest community in the western world in Alachua, Florida.
Question: Historically, has this always been the case?
Yes. In some of the earliest Sanskrit literatures, early Upanisads, we find women like Gargi who were great teachers that instructed kings.
Question: Can women become gurus in the Hare Krishna Movement?
Yes, women can be gurus. That is the official position of our governing body. Historically, women have served as gurus for many centuries.
Question: Can women work outside the home or are they restricted to taking care of the household and children?
The general principle is that everyone should serve God according to their nature and abilities. That is the principle that Krishna teaches throughout Bhagavad-gita. For example, our founder, Srila Prabhupada, requested women and men who are so inclined to get doctorate degrees and teach spiritual knowledge in universities.
Question: Are men and women equally entitled to having an outside job and taking care of the home and family, cooking, etc?
Again, everyone should serve according to their nature. I personally know cases where a devotee woman works and a man takes care of the house. The rule is that we should do things naturally, not ideologically. Women or men should not work a particular job or stay home simply to serve ideology. Rather they should act according to their real desire, nature, and ability. Our duty comes from our nature, and every individual is unique. If we give people freedom and encourage them to serve according to their own nature, then people will end up in the right place.