After a recent series of tragic events, public calls for an end to violence against women have intensified in Papua New Guinea.
The National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the country have issued a statement on the equality of women and men, speaking to a global concern that has been exacerbated during the pandemic.
Published in a national newspaper and on social media, the statement is stimulating constructive conversations in the capital city, Port Moresby, and beyond.
“Gender-based violence has become so deeply entrenched in our country,” the National Assembly writes in the statement. “It is a … manifestation of a chronic disease affecting our society. The Baha’i community believes that this disease, from which our progress and prosperity is so severely crippled, is in part due to the failure to recognize the equality of men and women.”
Reflecting on this statement, the Secretary of the National Spiritual Assembly, Confucius Ikoirere, says, “This is a moment when our society is thinking deeply about how its culture and traditions affect women. Religious communities have a responsibility to be a source of guidance and to help dispel superstitions that harm women. The hope is for this statement to create opportunities for individuals to speak about this important subject, so that this conversation can take root in all homes and penetrate communities.”
The statement highlights several Baha’i principles which it says are essential for a society that is to reflect the equality of women and men. What has drawn particular attention, as the statement circulated on social media, is a passage quoted from the Baha’i writings that likens men and women to the two wings of a bird—both of which need to be strengthened equally for the bird to fly.
“The reality is that some attitudes common in society place women as inferior to men, restricting them to the home and excluding them from decision-making,” says Gezina Volmer, Director of the Baha’i Office of External Affairs in Papua New Guinea. “A profound principle of the Baha’i Faith expressed in the statement is that the soul has no gender. Once people come to appreciate this and other related spiritual truths, they see that there is no basis for inequality in society. This leads to a significant change in perception of and conduct toward women. It creates a greater understanding of unity and allows for consultation on equal terms between men and women.”
Felix Simiha, a member of the National Spiritual Assembly, says, “During the pandemic families are strengthening a habit of coming together to pray, which is essential to the process of Baha’i consultation. When a family makes decisions through consultation, women, men, and children have a voice and violence has no place.”
The statement is a contribution of the country’s Baha’i community to the discourse on equality. The principles it conveys are at the heart of Baha’i community-building and educational efforts in Papua New Guinea.
“Aspects of our culture can change, particularly when we teach new values to our children from a young age,” says Zha Agabe-Granfar of the country’s Baha’i Office of External Affairs. “We see firsthand how girls and boys learn to interact with unity and collaboration, and then bring these lessons home to their families.
“From large cities to the remotest areas, we are seeing positive changes in communities striving to embody the equality of women and men. Women are being encouraged to study, their voices are valued, they are taking on decision-making roles, and barriers that had previously excluded them from full participation are being removed.”