The Education of Girls: Constraints and Policy Measures
In the Baha'i view, the purpose of life for individuals -- both male and female -- is to develop the powers and capacities latent within them, so that they may contribute their share to and ever-advancing civilization. The purpose of education is to catalyze and guide this process. Thus, education should lead to the discovery and perfection of one's capabilities and instill a commitment to serve the best interests of the community and the world as a whole. These two fundamental goals of education are inextricably linked because one unleashes and the other channels the power to transform the world.
The advancement of civilization now requires the full participation of everyone, including women. Women must, therefore, be educated, not only for the service they render to humanity as the first educators of children, but ultimately, for the special contributions women must make to the creation of a just world order, an order characterized by such compassion, vigor and scope has never been seen in history.
The mother is the primary source of the empowerment of the individual, without which social transformation and the advancement of civilization will be impossible. It is clear, then, that the station of the mother, increasingly denigrated in many societies, is in reality one of the greatest importance and highest merit.
Women and girls must be educated -- spiritually and intellectually -- because a mother cannot pass on what she does not have. A child needs a nurturing environment and wise guidance in the first years of life in order to develop sound character. Moreover, if the mother is unable, because of her own deficiencies, to provide the child with experiences which will equip her for later, formal schooling, she will find herself at a serious, often crippling, disadvantage. It must be stressed, however, that this dual responsibility of developing the child's character and stimulating his intellect, belongs also to the community as a whole, including the father, grandparents, and neighbors. Indeed, the extended family and a close community may provide the best environment for nurturing children.
As the sexes are equal in intellectual capacity and in potential to serve humanity, the curriculum for girls and boys should be identical. The Baha'i Faith sees the proper sphere of women's activity as including the arts and sciences, agriculture, commerce, industry and the affairs of state. There is no natural limit on women's ability. Such conflicts of interest as currently divide women against themselves, forcing them to make artificial choices between home and professional endeavors, are really only symptoms of a society organized according to purely material values. Such palliative measures as government-funded day care, while commendable as short term interventions, miss the heart of the issue, which is the pressing need for a fundamental rethinking and restructuring of human society.
Presently the world is caught in a cycle of miseducation wherein harmful character traits are passed from one generation to the next, retarding social progress. One source of this miseducation is the failure to respect women, even in the home. The denial of equality between the sexes perpetrates an injustice against one-half of the world's population and promotes in men harmful attitudes and habits that are carried from the family to the work place, to political life, and ultimately to international relations. When women are given equal educational opportunities, a great force for peace will be unleashed. For as women gain the respect and confidence attendant upon moving into new areas of activity, they will be better positioned to affect the culture of boys and men. The outcome will be diminished violence, both at the level of interpersonal relationships and at the structural level of state policies.
It would be a mistake to think that these goals are merely utopian conceptions, or idle speculation. The Baha'i community has documented development experiences in several countries which give substance to these otherwise theoretical assertions.
A commitment to educating girls is a natural result of accepting the larger vision of society offered by the Baha'i teachings. Baha'is are convinced that humanity is poised to achieve the long sought harmonization of the practical and spiritual requirements of life on earth. Far from being at the end of evolution, humanity is really only beginning its conscious embarkation on a guided evolutionary pathway that will enable us to secure the material needs for all people, provide them with the intellectual and emotional tools to meet life's challenges, throw off the age-old burden of warfare and militarization, and address the issues of social and economic advancement, public welfare, and the need to reverse the degradation of the environment. Clearly, a foundational component of such an enterprise is the imperative need to educate women into full partnership with men, providing them with a range of opportunities to express their newfound competencies that do not undermine their unique role as mothers -- the artisans of character and the builders of civilization.