"The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith."

She waited prayerfully and meditatively, knowing that her death was imminent. They strangled her with her own scarf. Her name was Tahirih, and she was slain for her beliefs in 1852.

The Baha’i teachings say Tahirih was the first martyr for women’s suffrage:

Thus ended the life of this great Babi heroine, the first woman suffrage martyr, who, at her death, turning to the one in whose custody she had been placed, had boldly declared: “You can kill me as soon as you like, but you cannot stop the emancipation of women.” – Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, p. 74.

Reading her story for the first time years ago, I could almost hear the fearless certitude in her voice. She spoke truth. Reading her words and hearing her strong voice in my mind, I finally knew, with the same sense of inner certainty, that the Baha’i Faith held something I had been searching for all of my life: recognition of the absolute equality of women and men.

As has happened with other women, the recent headlines that launched the #metoo and #timesup movements ripped open some old, long-buried wounds inflicted long before I ever heard of Tahirih and the Baha’i Faith.

I was a young newspaper reporter looking for a break. He was a muckity-muck human resources director for a big, well-respected newspaper chain.

I got the job. He kept tabs on me, calling me at work, calling me at home, questioning how I was doing on the job. Then he started questioning my whereabouts when I wasn’t home to take his calls.

The questions became hostile. Then the threats came. If I didn’t do what he wanted, I’d be fired. I’d never work again.

It was terrifying to report this to my immediate supervisors. There was an investigation. He got a letter in his permanent record. I was ordered into mandatory counseling.

I was even more scared when I saw the therapist. On a good day, I’m naturally soft-spoken. This wasn’t a good day.

The therapist asked if he could sit closer because he had trouble hearing me. I said yes and tearfully stumbled through the story.

His “professional” assessment? He claimed that I’d deliberately spoken softly because I wanted him to move close enough that I could seduce him. What?!?!

He laughed at me as I walked out the door in anger. I cussed. A lot.

I moved on to another newspaper; a better one that prided itself on its commitment to diversity in the workplace and opportunities for women. I moved up to become an award-winning journalist.

Eventually, my life’s journey led me to the Baha’i Faith. In it, I found healing reassurance. The equality of women and men is one of the core principles in the Baha’i teachings.

So when those old wounds were aggravated by recent headlines, I reached again for the balm of truth that healed me long ago:

Baha’u’llah declares the absolute equality of the sexes. … Verily, they are equal before God, for so he created them. Why should woman be deprived of exercising the fullest opportunities offered by life? Whosoever serves humanity most is nearest God—for God is no respecter of gender. The male and female are like the two wings of a bird and when both wings are reinforced with the same impulse the bird of humanity will be enabled to soar heaven-ward to the summit of progress. – Abdu’l-Baha, Divine Philosophy, p. 82.

Women have equal rights with men upon earth; in religion and society … 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. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 133.

God hath created all humankind in His own image, and after His own likeness. That is, men and women alike are the revealers of His names and attributes, and from the spiritual viewpoint there is no difference between them. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 79.

To this day, I never tire of reading the story of Tahirih, not just about her death, but about her life and the pivotal role she played in establishing the independence of this new global religion—and the independence of women. I am inspired by how she stood up to the clergy and other officials of her day who regarded women only slightly above animals. She delivered eloquent arguments for equality with such power that her truth could not be denied. I gain strength from “her fearlessness, her skill, her organizing ability and her unquenchable enthusiasm,” as Shoghi Effendi so aptly credited her, and I marvel at her intuition about the inevitable progress of my gender, which bordered on prophetic.

As I witness woman after woman stepping forward to combat the social injustices that have victimized women for centuries, I am thrilled to know that Tahirih’s words ring as true today as ever, “you cannot stop the emancipation of women.”

6 Comments

characters remaining
  • Kay LeClerc
    5 days ago
    "The male and female are like the two wings of a bird and when both wings are reinforced with the same impulse the bird of humanity will be enabled to soar heaven-ward to the summit of progress. " This is one of my favorite quotes. We may not always fulfill the promise of the best within us, but when we embrace true equality, not the lip-service type, but the true equality that rests deep in the heart, every part of our lives and the lives we touch, benefit. To ignore or dismiss half the population is incredibly short sighted and ...detrimental to the progress of the peoples of this planet. Thank you for sharing your story and introducing me to Tahirih.
    Read more...
  • Jessie Shanks
    Aug 10, 2018
    She also survived an abusive marriage. She had to give up her children to escape that marriage and reclaim her physical intellectual and spiritual freedom. We rarely tell that part of her story but we should. It makes her even accomplishments even more astonishing. #tahirihtoo
  • Frederick Starr
    Aug 10, 2018
    Don't forget that when women have been handed real power, they did just as much perpetrating as the men (just look at the actions of queen in olden days and female heads of state in recent times - they were no more committed to peace and justice than their mail counterparts.) Also, women in power have not alway acted in a way that helped other women progress - just look at the actions of Muhammed Shah's widow right after his death, since we are discussing Babi times. That is often true in today's business world, also.
    • Shiva Yamini-Aiff
      3 days ago
      Equal potential means equal potential. We're the other half, not the better.
  • Linda Rowe-regelean
    Aug 09, 2018
    Thank you for the bravery to share your story!
  • Linda Rowe-regelean
    Aug 09, 2018
    Poignant story...thank you for sharing...