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In the twentieth century, over 108 million people were killed in wars. And, of the past 3,400 years, humans have only been at peace for just 8 percent of them, according to a 2003 article by the New York Times.
War is traumatic and painful. Civilians are often starved, raped, shot, and bombed. If they live, they are often driven from their homes and forced to seek refuge elsewhere.
It’s easy to look at so much suffering and feel helpless about what we can do to achieve world peace. But Baha’is believe that one of the solutions to ending war in this world is achieving full equality and rights for women.
One right that women continue to be denied around the world is the right to education.
The Baha’i writings say:
In past ages humanity has been defective and inefficient because it has been incomplete. War and its ravages have blighted the world; the education of woman will be a mighty step toward its abolition and ending, for she will use her whole influence against war.
Woman rears the child and educates the youth to maturity. She will refuse to give her sons for sacrifice upon the field of battle. In truth, she will be the greatest factor in establishing universal peace and international arbitration. Assuredly, woman will abolish warfare among mankind.
But right now, according to UNESCO, 66% of the world’s 774 million illiterate adults are women, and more than 60% of countries don’t provide girls and boys with equal access to education.
Many barriers like poverty, violence, gender-biased teaching, and a lack of schools and inadequate infrastructures prevent girls from accessing and continuing their education. For example, families who don’t have the financial resources to pay for the costs of educating all their children often choose to only invest in educating their sons. Meanwhile, their daughters bear the responsibility of doing household chores and caring for elderly or young family members.
That’s why the Baha’i writings say that if there is not enough money “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.” Baha’is believe that education must be universal and compulsory, and every child must be “taught a profession, art, or trade,” so they can earn their own livelihood.
Not only does educating girls help prevent child marriages, teen pregnancies, and female genital mutilation, and improve their health and the longevity of their future children, but it also strengthens and fuels the economy. Educating women benefits everybody. So, why do so many people believe women are not worthy of education?
In a talk in 1912, Abdu’l-Baha, one of the central figures of the Baha’i Faith, explained that “the status of woman in former times was exceedingly deplorable,” because many cultures believed that it was best for women to be ignorant. They denied women the opportunity to learn how to read and write, so they could not “be informed of events in the world.”
Woman was considered to be created for rearing children and attending to the duties of the household. If she pursued educational courses, it was deemed contrary to chastity; hence women were made prisoners of the household. The houses did not even have windows opening upon the outside world.
Bahá’u’lláh [the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith] destroyed these ideas and proclaimed the equality of man and woman. He made woman respected by commanding that all women be educated, that there be no difference in the education of the two sexes and that man and woman share the same rights. In the estimation of God there is no distinction of sex.
Baha’is believe that the world of humanity is like two wings of a bird: one wing is men and the other wing is women. As long as “these two wings are not equivalent in strength, the bird will not fly.” But, when women receive the same rights and opportunities as men, the two wings will become equal in strength and humanity’s flight “will be exceedingly lofty and extraordinary.”
It’s essential that we all do what we can to empower and educate women everywhere if we want humanity to have a bright future where war is gone and peace and unity reign.