Gender equality is key to creating a just world order
NATIONAL Women’s Day on August 9 is a reminder of the important contributions women make to our society, as well as a time to ponder the advances in women’s rights. As we celebrate this special day, let us reflect on the progress made so far towards the empowerment of women, while looking ahead to overcoming the challenges that remain.
There has been significant improvement in the status of women and girls in the past few decades. They have achieved higher rates of education. They have risen to prominent roles in professional and political spheres. Efforts are being made towards their improved access to food security, health care and economic opportunities. Despite these positive developments, however, women are frequently still not treated as equals in their families or in society and the conventional beliefs that women are inferior to men make them easy targets for anger, frustration and violence.
Gender equality is not a vague ideal. “Equality of men and women” in the words of the Bahá’í International Community, “is a facet of human reality and not just a condition to be achieved for the common good. That which makes human beings human – their inherent dignity and nobility – is neither male nor female.”
While men and women are physically distinct, their spiritual identities are equal. The Bahá’í writings state: “Women and men, have been and will always be equal in the sight of God”. The human soul has no gender, and the social inequities that may have been dictated by the survival requirements of the past cannot be justified at a time when humanity stands at the threshold of maturity.
“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 characterised by such compassion, vigour and scope has never been seen in history”.
Equal rights and opportunities for women should be enforced both in the family and in society. However, in order to achieve this, there must be a shift in the values, outlook and conduct of both men and women.
Men must use their influence, particularly in the civil, political and religious institutions they control, to promote the systematic inclusion of women. This must not be done out of condescension or presumed self-sacrifice, but out of the belief that the contributions of women are required for society to progress. Responsibility for the change that will bring about gender equality, therefore, rests with both men and women.
The complementary roles also imply that, if one is defective, the other also cannot attain perfection. As the Bahá’í Writings assert: “As long as women are prevented from attaining their highest possibilities, so long will men be unable to achieve the greatness which might be theirs.”
Women and girls play a central role in the development of families, communities and nations. It is the Bahá’í view that education should be provided to every child. The great need and priority today is bridging the gap between educating boys and girls. It is through educated mothers that the benefits of knowledge can be most effectively and rapidly diffused throughout society. According to the Bahá’í Writings: “Until the reality of equality between men and women is fully established and attained, the highest social development of mankind is not possible”.
In the Bahá’í view, the capacity of women is the same as that of men. The Bahá’í scriptures state: “… men and women are equal in the sight of God… there is no distinction to be made between them. The only difference between them now is due to lack of education and training. If women are given equal opportunities of education, distinction and estimate of inferiority will disappear”.
Therefore, a deep commitment to the establishment of full equality between men and women is essential for strengthening the family, for general social development and advancement of our communities. Women and men together will ensure the creation of a peaceful and sustainable world civilization.