Preparation for Life in Peace: The Contribution of Women

Written version of an oral statement to the European Regional Seminar for the International Year of Peace
Vienna, Austria

A consideration of components that must be included in the process of preparing for life in peace deals more frequently with the structure of society that needs to be reordered or re-created, rather than with the disturbing flaws in individual behavior that make impossible - or at least improbable - acts of cooperation that must underlie a stable world society enjoying international security and peace.

The Baha'i­ International Community would like, therefore, to touch on some of the elements in the human personality that need to be addressed if a harmonious interaction between the individual and society can come into being.

Education from childhood in a basic understanding of the connection between peoples and cultures, insisting on a search for the common denominator in all persons, is, in our view, the basic prerequisite. To strip human beings of their accidental identities of race, nationality, religion, class, or sex, and to find within each person the basic intellectual, emotional, and physical needs and potentials is, we believe, a necessary process leading to the eradication of the whole range of prejudices preventing human beings from working together to build a peaceful world.

For it is the conviction of the Baha'i­ International Community, as expressed in the Baha'i­ Writings, that

man's glory lieth in his knowledge, his upright conduct, his praiseworthy character, his wisdom, and not in his nationality or rank.

And further, that

they that are endued with sincerity and faithfulness should associate with all the peoples and kindreds of the earth with joy and radiance, inasmuch as consorting with people hath promoted and will continue to promote unity and concord, which in turn are conducive to the maintenance of order in the world and to the regeneration of nations.

In the educational process earlier referred to it is important to consider the contribution that women can make in strengthening international peace and security, and in bringing about a world society that embodies the noblest characteristics and aspirations of the human race, a society that in turn nourishes the unfoldment of the full-range of individual talents.

It will be, in our view, only with the full participation of women in the affairs of the planet that we can bring about world peace. And the key to this essential involvement of women in the establishment of world order will be the provision of education for every human being, regardless of sex, race, nationality, class or religion. The need for such action is clearly expressed in the following passage from the Baha'i­ Writings:

When all mankind shall receive the same opportunity of education and the equality of men and women be realized, the foundations of war will be utterly destroyed. Equality between men and women is conducive to the abolition of warfare for the reason that women will never be willing to sanction it.

The principle of the equality of rights, privileges and opportunities for both sexes is one of the central principles of the Baha'i­ Faith. Essential to the unity of mankind and the establishment of universal peace, this principle has been actively promoted by Baha'i­s for over one hundred years. As women have become more involved in helping solve the many world problems that confront us today, it is encouraging to note, as the Baha'i­ International Community mentioned in a statement submitted to the 30th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (E/CN.6/1984/NGO.1) on the relationship of women to peace, that

the non-aggressive tendencies in women, who by nature seek cooperative means in solving such problems, are beginning to be appreciated by societies attempting to solve conflicts by peaceful means.

In our stage of human civilization, cooperation is seen as a vital element bringing about a complex but challenging unity through diversity, a garnering of the riches of human backgrounds and cultures to be integrated into a planetary pattern of international law and world order, and the emergence, eventually, of a world civilization. In the first quarter of this century, the pattern had already been witnessed with full clarity by `Abdu'l-Bahá, the son of Bahá'u'lláh, Founder of the Baha'i­ Faith, when he observed:

The world in the past has been ruled by force and man has dominated over woman by reason of his more forceful and aggressive qualities both of body and mind. But the scales are already shifting, force is losing its weight, and mental alertness, intuition and the spiritual qualities of love and service, in which woman is strong, are gaining ascendancy. Hence the new age will be an age less masculine and more permeated with the feminine ideals, or, to speak more exactly, will be an age in which the masculine and feminine elements of civilization will be more properly balanced.

It would seem quite clear, however, that it will not be possible for civilization present and future to benefit from this balance between masculine and feminine if an extraordinary effort is not made to provide education to women throughout the planet - even to favor the education of women from earliest childhood - so that the potentialities of this half of the human race can be developed fully and brought to bear in the resolution of world problems and the establishment of world peace. This could be, indeed, in our view, one of the thrusts of the International Year of Peace - to fully explore ways, and recommend action, that will bring about this fair balance of education for boys and girls in the family, in the community, and in the nation. For not only is the participation of women as mothers and parents crucial to develop the proper qualities in children to become agents for peace, but the influence of women in the affairs of the world, through their participation in all areas of activity on a full and equal footing with men is also an essential element to make war once and forever obsolete.

Further, women could help reverse a prevalent philosophy of life that assumes that human beings are captive of the natural world, and that human behavior must therefore resemble that of animals; since the resultant struggle for material wealth is one with which women are very familiar, having long been victims of a system that values material productivity as the mark of success, but does not lead to security, happiness, or well-being for anyone.

It is the view of the Baha'i­ International Community that the struggle of one group, class or race for control or advantage over others for economic benefit serves only to increase divisiveness, deepen prejudices and enhance the competitive side of human nature. Instead, a philosophy based on the nobility of human beings and on the development of their higher spiritual nature can give a new vision and education essential to peoples and governments in our time.

If women - and men - could by every means available to them promote such a view of life, a rapid transformation of society might soon be possible. This action would, as we expressed in our statement to the Commission on the Status of Women mentioned earlier,

ensure the development of moral and spiritual values, which are so essential if education is to promote peace; it would help to bring about the equality of the sexes, cementing the partnership which must exist between men and women; it would lessen the competitiveness and struggle for power between warring groups seeking to exercise dominance over others; and finally it would make possible the building of an effective system of collective security to maintain peace among states: for in a united world no aggressor nation could destroy any other, since all other countries would act in unison, through an international agency, to prevent that aggression.

There is a great need in our world today to include in education cooperative approaches involving respect for the potential realization of the highest qualities in every human being. We have found that cooperative attitudes and respect for others in the family will encourage the acceptance of rights for everyone: the respect for children and for women is enhanced in families where moral and spiritual values underlie the concern for material well-being. In addition, when these attitudes are extended from the family to the nation and the world, they hold great promise for lessening and eventually abolishing those divisive prejudices that have seriously inhibited growth and development.

Although the Baha'i­ International Community supports special programmes for the development of women, the experience of Baha'i­ communities has shown that if these programs do not also educate men in the equality of the sexes, leading to their acceptance of this just principle, they will fail, since the healthy condition of the family, as the basic unit of society, requires the shared contribution of both men and women. Wherever the family structure and influence are weak, problems will multiply - especially for children, those adults of the world of tomorrow.

If International Year of Peace can encourage programmes that stress an increasing awareness of the interdependence and organic unity of humanity, it will be fostering conditions in which peace is possible. For, it seems to us, we need urgently a spreading wave of people who learn respect for the rights of others, assume responsibility to build good character, and are willing to dedicate themselves, in the spirit of service, to the interests of the whole of humanity.