Universal Values for the Advancement of Women
Inasmuch as human society consists of two factors, the male and female, each the complement of the other, the happiness and stability of humanity cannot be assured unless both are perfected. Therefore the standard and status of man and woman must become equalized. (from the Baha'i Writings)
Since the Baha'i Faith, whose teachings, principles, and laws guide the Baha'i International Community, is the first religion to proclaim unequivocally the principle of equality of rights, privileges, and responsibilities for men and women, worldwide Baha'i programs are always concerned, within their own community and in society at large, with the advancement of women.
The statement above explains the closeness with which the Baha'i International Community has, since obtaining consultative status (category II) with the United Nations Economic and Social Council in 1970, cooperated officially with the United Nations in its work to improve the status of women throughout the world. In addition to the steady contribution of Baha'i communities for over a century in abolishing discrimination based on sex, the Baha'i International Community has worked directly with the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women and the UN Branch for the Advancement of Women.
The Baha'i International Community has continually encouraged awareness and understanding of the Declaration on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women and of the numerous UN instruments on specific rights for women -- and is now ready to make widely known the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women approved by the United Nations General Assembly at its thirty fourth session (1979). Besides participating in sessions of the Commission on the Status of Women and in special regional UN seminars and conferences, it also wholeheartedly supported the spirit and the goals of International Women's Year (1975) with worldwide programs, attended the IWY World Conference and its parallel non-governmental activities, and is now contributing with the same enthusiasm to the accomplishment of the aims of the United Nations Decade for Women (1976-1985).
In this consultative relationship with the United Nations, the Baha'i International Community has submitted numerous statements; answered requests for information, comments and suggestions; and has presented to the United Nations a study on the status of women in the Baha'i world community, evidencing the steady implementation in the Baha'i world of the principle of the equality of the sexes. The present booklet contains excerpts from these submissions pertinent to the topics of the 1980 World Conference, an event marking the mid point of the UN Decade for Women. We hope that our observations, touching on what we feel are fundamental issues for the achievement of the equality of rights, privileges, and responsibilities for both sexes, may be a source of inspiration and of guidance.
Baha'i communities throughout the world are committed to the equality of rights, privileges and responsibilities of both sexes, a principle which they recognize as an essential element for achieving the unity of humanity. This Baha'i belief in the equality of men and women comes from the recognition of a divine authority -- Bahá'u'lláh, Prophet Founder of the Baha'i Faith -- who, over 100 years ago, taught that prejudices of sex, race, religion, class or nationality must be systematically abolished by the free will of individuals and groups, eventually making possible the realization of global unity and a peaceful, ordered society. (The sources of these selections can be found at the end of this compilation.)
Progress is often considered only in terms of man's physical well being, his material needs, development being directed to the accomplishment of a higher standard of living. While the Baha'i International Community feels that such development is essential to the well being and happiness of human beings, we would suggest that there are other dimensions of progress which must be included if human beings are to attain full realization of their potentialities. A deeper understanding of the value of human life and of its quality, resting on a spiritual foundation which will lead ultimately to the attainment of co operation between nations for the advancement of all mankind; the loving assistance which human beings, men and women, must give to each other; the qualities of trustworthiness, honesty and justice which must be developed if humanity is to advance are all important aspects of education which must be included. Most people would agree that education is the key to the motivation and the change in attitudes necessary if the generality of women are to make a meaningful contribution to society; but it should be an education that goes beyond the training of human beings intellectually or the acquisition of skills. A sense of worth, assurance and courage are dependent upon the realization of moral and spiritual character -- a fact that is becoming increasingly apparent in both the rich and the poor countries of the world.
Recognizing that religion has been a most powerful influence in establishing behavior patterns, and is indeed at the core of most customs and traditions, we wish to comment on a quite new dimension in religion which, while not denying past contributions, expands and deepens the understanding of the role of religion in the life of humanity.
As materialistic pursuit and attachment increase in the world, humanity becomes ever more a captive of nature, struggling for physical existence and well being. Concern for material wealth alone, while it may seem to bring temporary security and freedom, finally can be seen to have entrapped all people in a maze of insecurity, doubt, and lack of freedom, as the competition to achieve positions of advantage and power intensifies.
It is the view of the Baha'i International Community that these materialistic attitudes must be balanced by the realization that the goal and reality of human life is spiritual in nature. Awareness of our humility before the Creator, and our desire to acquire the highest moral virtues and qualities -- honesty, trustworthiness, justice, love and compassion -- as expressed in the fundamental teachings of all religions, is the beginning of spiritual awakening. Only as men and women free themselves from the materialism which today dominates all aspects of life can they begin to experience true dedication to the whole of humanity, and to recognize the organic oneness and absolute interdependence of all members of the human family.
To this end, education, beginning in childhood and extending throughout life, should place great emphasis on the following principles:
- The unfettered investigation of truth. Every person has not only the right, but the responsibility to make his own search for truth, reaching his own conviction so that the source of his actions will not be an imitation of the thoughts and beliefs of others.
- The agreement of science and religion. An awareness of the essential harmony of science and religion, as aspects of one reality, abolishes the unscientific concepts which grow out of human interpretations of religion and cause misunderstanding and superstition.
- A universal standard of justice. As minds unite in the recognition of the organic oneness of mankind, a truth which is above partisan interests, discrimination because of sex, race, religion, economic and social status gradually disappears.
- The fundamental oneness of religion. The basic truths of every faith should be taught and fully accepted, since the religions are stages in the unfoldment of a divine plan -- each religion awakening, in different places and times, deeper insight of truth in the human mind, and establishing new social laws and teachings necessary for the progress of peoples.
- The equality of men and women. Equal opportunities, rights, and privileges, must be advocated for members of both sexes. The education of women is, in fact, so important that if both boy and girl cannot be educated equally in a family, preference should be given to the girl as a future mother, since the education of children in the early years determines in great part the level of achievement which humanity can attain. (Statements 7)
The basis for change in the Baha'i International Community is the belief that the inherent equality of the sexes has always been a reality and that all apparent differences in the abilities of men and women are due to education. This affirmation of equality, now expressed in the Baha'i Faith as a law for the first time in a revealed religion -- and recognized by Baha'is as one evidence of the maturity of humanity -- is the strongest possible inducement for abandoning obsolete traditional mores and patterns in favor of principles and teachings which meet the needs of contemporary society. (Statements 10)
In the view of the Baha'i International Community, particular emphasis should be placed on the education of women and the importance of their unique contribution to the advancement of civilization. While universal compulsory education applies to both sexes, because of woman's role as mother and first educator of the child, the education of women is more important than that of men, and if parents are unable to fulfill their duty to educate both boy and girl in a family, the girl should be given preference. This is not to imply that women are to be considered only in relationship to the rearing of children and the duties of the household; for it is important that women develop all latent capacities, obtaining by way of their constructive pursuits the recognition of complete equality. (Statements 3a)
Furthermore, while some of the qualities and functions of men and women differ, neither sex is inherently superior or inferior, nor should this affect the expectation of equal rights. In a world in which the forceful and aggressive qualities by which men have dominated over women are becoming neither necessary for survival nor desirable for the solution of human problems, mental alertness, intuition and the spiritual qualities of love and service in which the woman is strong are gaining in importance. The new age will surely be one in which the so called masculine and feminine elements of civilization will be more properly balanced. As women receive the same opportunity of education and the equality of men and women is universally recognized, the natural inclination of women to peace and the fact that they find it more difficult to sacrifice their children and to sanction war will prove of great benefit to the world.(Statements 3a)
Improvement in the status of women in the Baha'i world community rests securely on several interrelated concepts which lend it added strength and support. In the Baha'i view, the good of any one part of society is essential to the happiness and well being of the whole. The role of women in society must, therefore, always be seen in the light of the organic oneness of humanity. All principles and actions which strengthen the bonds uniting members of the human race will in turn advance the position of women. For this reason, Baha'i communities strive to attain unity in diversity -- not uniformity -- through the abolition of all forms of discrimination, whether of sex, race, creed, nationality, or class. The advancement of women among Baha'is springs, therefore, not only from the motivation which their Faith inspires, but also from an assumption of responsibility for action on the part of every person in his individual life, and in his family and community relationships (Statements 10)
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 overemphasis 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. (Statements 5)
Through these principles, the Baha'i International Community has made considerable progress toward the elimination of obstacles preventing the advancement of women, as may be seen in the desire of women for education, in their full participation in the process of Baha'i election, consultation, and decision making, in their service on Baha'i administrative bodies, and in community service. This progress has been made possible through the Baha'i administrative system, which provides for the free expression and consideration of all points of view -- of youth and adults of both sexes -- maintains unity and encourages continued growth in understanding of the principles and laws which today are essential to human growth and development. In the Baha'i International Community the changing attitudes of men and women from over 1,600 ethnic and indigenous backgrounds are leading to an ever greater realization that human happiness comes from dedication to the oneness and wholeness of the human race. (Statements 7)
Brochure, Statements and Information Submitted to the United Nations by the Baha'i International Community on the Subject of the Equality of Men and Women
- "Equality of Men and Women -- A New Reality." Pamphlet prepared for International Women's Year (1975).
- United Nations Inter-regional Seminar on the Family in a Changing Society, London, England, 18-31 July 1973.
Twenty-fifth session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women:
- E/CN.6/NGO/247, 26 December 1973
- E/CN.6/NGO/25 1, 11 January 1974
- E/CN.6/NGO/252, 11 January 1974
- United Nations Regional Consultation for Asia and the Far East on the Integration of Women in Development with Special Reference to Population Factors Bangkok, Thailand, 13-17 May 1974.
- United Nations World Conference for International Women's Year, Mexico City, Mexico, 19 June-2 July 1975.
- United Nations Seminar on Participation of Women in Economic, Social and Political Development, Buenos Aires, Argentina, 22-30 March 1976.
- Twenty-sixth session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, E/CN.6/NGO/264, 15 September 1976.
- United Nations Regional Seminar on the Participation of Women in Economic, Social and Political Development, Kathmandu, Nepal, 15-22 February 1977.
- Regional Conference on the Implementation of National, Regional and World Plans of Action for the Integration of Women in Development, Nouakchott, Mauritania, 27 September-2 October 1977.
- Twenty-seventh session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, E/CN.6/NGO/279, 17 March 1978.
- Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific Regional Preparatory Conference for the 1980 World Conference of the United Nations Decade for Women, Delhi, India, 5-9 November 1979.
- Reply to questionnaire concerning the Influence of Mass Media, submitted to the United Nations Branch for the Promotion of Equality of Men and Women, 1973.
- Preliminary Enquiry into the Status of Women in the Baha'i World Community, submitted to the twenty-fifth session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, 11 January 1974, footnoted in E/CN.6/NGO/252.
- Report of Baha'i International Community Activities During International
- Women's Year, 15 June 1976.
- Reply to the Questionnaire on Implementation During the Period 1975-1978 of the World Plan of Action Adopted at the World Conference of the International Women's Year, submitted to the United Nations Branch for the Advancement of Women, April 1979.
- Reply to invitation from the United Nations Branch for the Advancement of Women to submit "observations concerning ways and means for the improvement in the status and role of women in education and in the economic and social fields ..." submitted 22 June 1979.
- Reply to questionnaire from Special Rapporteur, Mrs. Esmeralda Arboleda Cuevas, concerning "The Impact of Mass Communication Media on the Changing Roles of Men and Women," submitted 20 July 1979.