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The equality of men and women forms an essential foundation for marriage–and for an evolving global society.
The Baha’i teachings say that gender equality is an essential component of all human endeavor:
The world of humanity has two wings—one is women and the other men. Not until both wings are equally developed can the bird fly. Should one wing remain weak, flight is impossible. Not until the world of women becomes equal to the world of men in the acquisition of virtues and perfections, can success and prosperity be attained as they ought to be. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 302.
Unfortunately, not all cultures in the world today practice the equality of the sexes. That’s why it’s so important, during courtship, for a couple to begin assessing their cultural and religious views about their gender roles–and about equality and partnership between them. Through their experiences together, they will determine the level of mutual respect each other feels and expresses.
One challenge continues to impact the topic of equality in relationships and marriages—the state of equality itself keeps evolving. Each generation and culture tries new attitudes and actions, and the world organically moves closer to society-wide equality. A hundred years ago, most women couldn’t vote or get a good education. In many places, that has changed dramatically in just a century. In other places, women still face oppression and unequal treatment. We cannot foresee what equality in marriage and society will look like in the future. For now, each couple must find ways to work out what fits best for them, with the Baha’i principle of the equality of women and men as a guide.
At times couples may become confused about equality, because within the family, men and women often serve different roles. The Baha’i teachings on equality do not always intend physical equality, because mothers and fathers often carry out different tasks within the home, in the working world, and in child-rearing. Men and women each have gifts that can contribute to the marriage and family, and the emotional strengths of women often influence men and help to balance out the relationship between them. But since women and girls have for so long been deprived of education and opportunities, the Baha’i teachings put a special emphasis on educating girls.
Consider this perspective:
Mothers are the first educators of children, who establish virtues in the child’s inner nature. They encourage the child to acquire perfections and goodly manners, warn him against unbecoming qualities, and encourage him to show forth resolve, firmness, and endurance under hardship, and to advance on the high road to progress. Due regard for the education of girls is, therefore, necessary. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Compilation of Compilations, Vol. II, “Women”, p. 374.
As society evolves towards greater unity, it still experiences many difficulties between the genders. We have much room for advancement in fairness and power issues, but fortunately a growing number of individuals have dedicated themselves to modeling justice, tolerance, and respect within their relationships and marriages.
The more a couple learns to consult in unity with each other and involve the family in conversations that elevate communal purpose, the greater the harmony that can exist. Once they have worked out their own ways of recognizing and respecting each other’s equal status, the stabilizing factors of gender equality within a marriage and home resonate outwardly, showcasing interactions that strengthen community life.