Whether we are a brother or sister, a mother or father, a husband or wife, we are touched by the need for equality and understanding across gender lines.
There is no greater joy than realizing one’s full potential as a human being, regardless of gender. Today, due to the advances in education and technology that our society now enjoys, once-traditional male or female roles are quickly changing and evolving.
In fact, from family to family and from person to person, the concept of what those roles are is rarely identical. In many parts of the world today women enjoy greater opportunities than ever before, but still a lot of work remains to be done before we can truly say we have achieved equality.
The Baha’i teachings call upon us all to do that important work:
Know thou … that … women are accounted the same as men, and 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.
It is erroneous to believe that the issue of gender equality is strictly a women’s issue. Men, too, need opportunities to grow beyond traditional roles and to overcome the challenge of sexism, which hampers everyone’s development:
Woman must endeavour then to attain greater perfection, to be man’s equal in every respect, to make progress … so that man will be compelled to acknowledge her equality of capacity and attainment.
God’s Bounty is for all and gives power for all progress. When men own the equality of women there will be no need for them to struggle for their rights! – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, pp. 162-163.
The Baha’i Faith teaches that women and men can only achieve their full potential when both have equal opportunities to grow and develop. In fact, the Baha’i teachings indicate that if parents cannot afford to educate both their sons and daughters, preference should be given to their daughters. This is not to imply that women are more important than men, but to support them in their crucial role as the primary educators of their children and therefore society. It is especially important for the daughter to be educated because she will later be the first educator of her own children, and will have an especially strong influence on their character. She must be equipped with the means to teach them how to live, learn, and worship.
To hold one gender back necessarily holds the other back as well. In the eyes of God, the Baha’i teachings proclaim, no superior or inferior gender exists—God judges a soul on its qualities and character alone, not according to its gender.
So in this day and age, the Baha’i teachings call upon both women and men to overcome the challenges of sexism and to establish the reality of gender equality and harmony.
Uniting the two largest groups of people in the world into a harmoniously blended coexistence requires at least three crucial steps:
- the systematic elimination of gender prejudice,
- discernable progress toward equitable justice in the world, and
- the establishment of equality between women and men.
Even though these goals are not easily accomplished, they can be achieved through both personal and unified efforts, and they are certainly within humanity’s grasp:
The diversity in the human family should be the cause of love and harmony, as it is in music where many different notes blend together in the making of a perfect chord. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 53.
For the individual, the process of replacing ignorance with understanding, tolerance, respect, and appreciation for another gender means changing the damaging attitudes that prevent both sexes from recognizing the mutual advantages inherent in equality.
For most of us this process represents a difficult, lifelong pursuit. Fortunately our perspectives can be reshaped and corrected when we understand how God sees the issue of gender. Baha’i scripture affirms that:
Women and men have been and will always be equal in the sight of God. The Dawning Place of the Light of God sheddeth its radiance upon all with the same effulgence. – Baha’u’llah, from a tablet translated from the Persian and Arabic.
For the human race as a whole, and for men in particular, the ongoing process of overcoming any sense of gender superiority requires patience and sustained effort. True and lasting progress will not be won through violent confrontations, power struggles, or political legislation, but rather through self-evaluation and a process of spiritual evolution that truly changes the root values by which we live and interact. Personal accountability and measured change are the fundamental processes that ultimately produce great and enduring civilizations, for they ensure the ability to adjust and survive in changing conditions and circumstances.
So ask yourself: what have I done for gender equality today?