International Women's Year
The Baha'i International Community, comprising Baha'i communities in 335 countries and territories, expressing through its members -- men and women representing 1,600 tribes and ethnic groups -- a worldwide unity in diversity, welcomes this opportunity to make a contribution to the World Conference for International Women's Year.
Baha'i communities have found that education must go beyond intellectual development or the acquisition of skills. An essential characteristic of such an education, the experience of the Baha'i International Community for over a century suggests, is a wider and deeper understanding of the purpose and value of human life. A sense of worth, assurance, and courage, as well as a sense of direction, are dependent upon the attainment of spiritual as well as material goals. If human beings are to realize fully their potentialities and be willing to contribute their talents and skills to aid others in attaining happiness, then "progress," frequently understood exclusively in terms of physical well-being, and "development," defined as the use of human resources to achieve a higher standard of living, should have broader and deeper dimensions.
The full commitment of women -- and men -- to the advancement of society, the Baha'i International Community has found, demands a source of belief powerful enough to effect, through life-long education, a transformation in the goal and the quality of life, so that each person will contribute steadily to the development of his own country and of a world society. Baha'i communities operate on the belief that such power and pattern have been released in the world in this new stage of human evolution, and that we can all become attuned to this constructive force.
A study entitled "Preliminary Enquiry into the Status of Women in the Baha'i World Community," made available to the Commission on the Status of Women (Document E/CN.6/NGO/252, 11 January 1974) indicated that all Baha'i communities teach equality of the sexes and act to eliminate prejudice and discrimination against women; and that within the Baha'i International Community "great advances have already been made towards equality of the sexes." As the "Enquiry" suggests, women already participate actively in voting for local and national Baha'i administrative bodies -- an easy process for them since there is no electioneering or nominations, and the ballot is secret; and they are elected to serve on such bodies. Women take part also in consultation -- the process by which decisions are arrived at in Baha'i community affairs -- since they are able to rid themselves of feelings of inferiority and lack of worth brought about by an over-emphasis on material values, through their understanding of the spiritual nature of human life. The development of the mind, through an unfettered investigation of knowledge, and the welcome expression of each individual's views in the process of consultation, have been two vital ingredients in the social and administrative structure of Baha'i communities that have made possible the participation of women and men in all areas of community life.
In the Baha'i world community the education of women has high priority. Although universal compulsory education applies to both sexes, the education of women, because mothers are the first teachers of the child, is considered more important than that of men. Therefore, if parents, who have the primary responsibility for the education of their children, are not able to fulfill their duty to educate both boy and girl in a family, preference is given to the girl. In no way does this choice suggest that women are to be limited to the rearing of children and to household duties; for it is vital that women develop all their talents and skills, so that they may achieve through their constructive activities recognition of complete equality.
This realization of equality, however, does not relate to roles or to the different functions and qualities of women and men. The importance of a balance between the forceful and aggressive qualities and the attributes of mental alertness, intuition, love and service, in which women throughout history have been strong is becoming recognized; and the deep-seated inclination of women to peace and their great reluctance to sacrifice their children to war is recognized in Baha'i communities as holding great promise for the future. Further, as prejudices of sex, as well as of creed, race, class, and nationality, are abandoned, in a spirit of dedication to the unity of mankind, the necessary motivation for the establishment of peace can take place in both men and women.