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I drive all over town as a chauffeur for my kids every day — from soccer, to guitar lessons, to Kumon classes, seven days a week. I know – this definitely fits into the category of “first world” problems” — that I have to drive too much! But believe me, I’m not complaining. At least I can legally drive.
Recent events have reminded me once again of the cruelties the majority of womankind face. One last country in the entire world prohibits women from driving — Saudi Arabia. Police arrested thirteen women there this week for getting behind the wheel.
Despite many successes in empowering women around the world, numerous issues still exist in all areas of life, ranging from the cultural, political, religious, to the economical. For example, women often work more than men, yet are paid less. Gender discrimination affects girls and women throughout their lifetime. Women and girls unfortunately often suffer the most poverty. And in this recent headline our Saudi sisters can’t even get themselves from point A to point B.
As a woman my heart breaks every time I hear about discrimination against women anywhere. But it pains me even more that the world is so slow to realize a more advanced system of development. We now know that holding women back from progress only retards the progress of civilization itself.
Can you believe that in 2013 in Saudi Arabia every female citizen gets assigned a legal male guardian? The male guardian can legally marry her off as a child to a man decades older than her. He can also legally and easily ban her from education, work and marriage. He has to pre-approve any international travel officially — which in simple terms means she has a keeper. And of course he, or some other man, has to drive her where she needs to go. Without the basic human right of mobility, Saudi women face a demoralizing deterrent from pursuing an education, a career and even maintaining their own health.
As I drove to my daughter Sophie’s soccer game this afternoon, I missed a turn because I couldn’t help imagining life under such conditions. No public transportation system exists in Saudi Arabia. No one can walk to the corner and catch a bus or take the subway.
Over 150 years ago the Baha’i Faith (which originated in Iran) taught the equality of the sexes. The women’s movement had only begun to take baby steps in the West, and such ideas were unheard of in the Middle East. The Founder of the Baha’i Faith stated unequivocally that women and men are equal, and full participation of women in every field of human endeavor is an essential prerequisite to peace and human progress. The Baha’i teachings say that feminine qualities such as compassion, nurturing, cooperation and empathy are essential in creating a peaceful, just, and sustainable world civilization:
The world of humanity is possessed of two wings: the male and the female. So long as these two wings are not equivalent in strength, the bird will not fly. Until womankind reaches the same degree as man, until she enjoys the same arena of activity, extraordinary attainment for humanity will not be realized; humanity cannot wing its way to heights of real attainment. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 374.
Reading the many reports, blogs and petitions to end the driving ban of Saudi women has brought into focus the following statement from Abdul-Baha, made over a century ago as he addressed many New Yorkers during a visit to the West:
The world in the past has been ruled by force and man has dominated over woman by reason of his more forceful and aggressive qualities both of body and mind. But the scales are already shifting, force is losing its weight, and mental alertness, intuition, and the spiritual qualities of love and service, in which woman is strong, are gaining ascendancy. Hence the new age will be an age less masculine and more permeated with the feminine ideals, or, to speak more exactly, will be an age in which the masculine and feminine elements of civilization will be more properly balanced. – Baha’u’llah and the New Era, p. 156.
All around the world women are taking great strides to take back their God-given rights. No government, no culture, no man can fight the force of justice backed by the Divine Creator. Soon this tragic history of discrimination and inequality will recede into the past, and genuine love, patience, true humility, and mature wisdom will prevail. In the Baha’i writings Baha’u’llah promises a day will come when men will welcome women in all aspects of life. Now is the time to move decisively toward that promised future!