Aghast and incensed, people around the world rooted for young Malala Yousafzai, the 14-year-old Afghan girl who fought for her life after an attempted assassination by the Taliban. Why did the Taliban fear the young teen? Because she dared to speak for the rights of girls to attend school. The Taliban’s fear of the teenager proves the potential power of educated females.
In 1912, on a visit to the United States, Abdu’l-Baha told a women’s suffrage group:
It is well established in history that where woman has not participated in human affairs the outcomes have never attained a state of completion and perfection. On the other hand, every influential undertaking of the human world wherein woman has been a participant has attained importance. This is historically true and beyond disproof even in religion. Jesus Christ had twelve disciples and among His followers a woman known as Mary Magdalene. Judas Iscariot had become a traitor and hypocrite, and after the crucifixion the remaining eleven disciples were wavering and undecided. It is certain from the evidence of the Gospels that the one who comforted them and reestablished their faith was Mary Magdalene. – The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 134.
Abdu’l-Baha also addressed the situation which still persists today in some societies, as in the Taliban-held areas of Afghanistan:
It has been objected by some that woman is not equally capable with man and that she is deficient by creation. This is pure imagination. The difference in capability between man and woman is due entirely to opportunity and education. Heretofore woman has been denied the right and privilege of equal development. If equal opportunity be granted her, there is no doubt she would be the peer of man. – Ibid., p. 135.
At the time Abdu’l-Baha made his trip across North America, even there women’s education had significant limitations. Women had not yet gained the vote, made many inroads in the workplace or had the right to own property or sign contracts. Most societies did not yet understand the importance of educating women, and many considered it a luxury. If people couldn’t afford higher education for all their children, the schooling automatically went to the boys. But Abdu’l-Baha saw it very differently:
Education holds an important place in the new order of things. The education of each child is compulsory. If there is not money enough in a family to educate both the girl and the boy the money must be dedicated to the girl’s education, for she is the potential mother. If there are no parents the community must educate the child. In addition to this widespread education each child must be taught a profession, art, or trade, so that every member of the community will be enabled to earn his own livelihood. – Abdu’l-Baha, Divine Philosophy, p. 83.
The Baha’i teachings recommend universal compulsory education for all children, with a special focus on educating and training girls. As mothers and as persons taking their place in all areas of the working world, including in their own homes, educated girls and women play an essential part in every progressive society.