Gen­der equal­ity is key to cre­at­ing a just world order

The Star Early Edition - - WORLD - FLORA TECKIE

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.

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