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How do I become Baha’i?

Gender Equality Means We All Have to Change

Elaine McCreary | Nov 24, 2018

PART 2 IN SERIES Our Seven Families

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

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Elaine McCreary | Nov 24, 2018

PART 2 IN SERIES Our Seven Families

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

Before a global commonwealth can come into existence, we must resolve several barriers created by adversarial relations within the body of humanity.

Among these barriers are animosities existing between races, creeds, and classes. But the deepest-running division, the most fundamental polarity, and the most radical feature of human potential is the interaction of women and men. Whatever the inequalities of social condition and opportunity between races, the divisions within, between the sexes, are pervasive—to the detriment of all. Most agencies of social and economic development have a surfeit of evidence to this effect. It is, as we say, common knowledge.

Respective/Reciprocal Gender Deficiencies

If actual, daily gender inequality were not a deep and profound dilemma it would have been solved long ago, because the respective deficiencies of men and women are at the crux of most if not all of our current global crises.

It’s easy enough to recognize the value of binary vision. We can navigate a 3-D world effectively because we use two eyes. We also recognize the binary nature of our motion: two legs and feet, two arms, two wings of a bird. Mankind and womankind are often compared to two wings of the bird of humankind—only as these two wings balance their capacities to bear burdens of various kinds will the bird of humanity soar toward ever higher fulfilment of its destined nobility.

But how is that equality going to happen? Is only one wing deficient? Which one? Is it possible they are both deficient, but in different capacities?

The Advancement of Women

By far, the most common social policy response to the self-defeating gender imbalance in society attempts to mitigate the symptoms of under participation of women in world affairs. Clearly, the world’s awareness of itself—which should be informed and stimulated by the complementary, bi-logical thought processes resulting from gender perspectives, instead has been stumbling forward with mono-logical myopia.

Even prior to women’s suffrage, the Baha’i teachings anticipated that the destiny of women would be to join their male counterparts in every arena of human enterprise, to master the details, shoulder their share of the dilemmas, and attain the highest positions of public trust:

There is no area or instance where they [women] will lag behind: they have equal rights with men, and will enter, in the future, into all branches of the administration of society. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 182.

Such will be their elevation that, in every area of endeavour, they will occupy the highest levels in the human world. – Ibid.

However, Abdu’l-Baha was clear that this is not just a legacy to inherit passively. He urged all women in the world, regardless of race, religion, or age, to step forward, to exercise their abilities and claim their rightful place:

… while this principle of equality is true, it is likewise true that woman must prove her capacity and aptitude, must show forth the evidences of equality. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 182.

In the 21st century, male backlash against male/female equality has raged more savagely than ever, in a futile attempt to reverse the spirit of the times—which the Baha’i teachings say will lead us to equality.

The Evolution of Men

Evil does not fade away of its own accord. Darkness will only be dispelled by light—by the light of good men. Baha’is call upon men of good will to come to grips with the qualities and skills that women bring to the public domain at this time in history:

… the balance is already shifting; force is losing its dominance, and mental alertness, intuition, and the spiritual qualities of love and service, in which woman is strong, are gaining ascendancy. – Abdu’l-Baha, quoted by J.E. Esselmont in Baha’u’llah and the New Era, p. 156.

Is it that  men are losing dominance, or is it that the traditional strategies of force and domination are less valid?  Is it that women are gaining ascendancy, or is it that spiritual qualities, previously associated with women, now have special relevance for men as well in order to achieve global prosperity? Couldn’t we just go on developing the women in society and leave mankind the way it always was? What is implied in this statement of Abdu’l-Baha?

The world of humanity consists of two parts: male and female. Each is the complement of the other … It is not natural that either should remain undeveloped; and until both are perfected, the happiness of the human world will not be realized. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 134.

Since Abdu’l-Baha also said that “all virtues must be taught the family” then teaching and learning are central to the welfare of all families, including the planetary one as it seeks freedom from violence.

[Baha’u’llah] promulgated the adoption of the same course of education for man and woman. Daughters and sons must follow the same curriculum of study, thereby promoting unity of the sexes. When all mankind shall receive the same opportunity of education and the equality of men and women be realized, the foundations of war will be utterly destroyed. – Ibid., p. 175.

Abdu’l-Baha outlined an educational path for men that would refine their strength of heart, mind, spirit, and soul as they progress from boyhood to manhood:

… the man becomes pure through his strength. Through the power of intelligence he becomes simple; through the great power of reason and understanding and not through the power of weakness [like children] he becomes sincere. … This is the difference between the perfect man and the child. Both have the underlying qualities of simplicity and sincerity – the child through the power of weakness and the man through the power of strength. – Ibid., p. 53.

The Greatness Which Might Be Theirs

While the advancement of women is necessary, it is not sufficient to bring the world right. The real key to healing a fragmented world is the evolution of men. The equality that will result  from their evolution will fulfil the great destiny that men have been hopelessly seeking on the seas and in the battlefields for far too long. For men, their happiness and greatness, the fulfilment of their divine potential, hangs in the balance, awaiting the day when they share with women as co-equals:

As long as women are prevented from attaining their highest possibilities, so long will men be unable to achieve the greatness which might be theirs. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 136.

The Role of Women in Governing a Peaceful Planet

Mankind will never be able to purge itself of war, without the resounding presence of womankind to champion the advantages of peace:

… the achievement of full equality between the sexes, is one of the most important, though less acknowledged prerequisites of peace. – The Universal House of Justice, The Promise of World Peace, p. 3.

So it will come to pass that when women participate fully and equally in the affairs of the world, when they enter confidently and capably the great arena of laws and politics, war will cease. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 135.  

You’ll find much more on this topic in “The Global Family,” a  chapter of Elaine McCreary’s new book Our Seven Families, published by GR Books, available at

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  • Elaine McCreary
    Nov 27, 2018
    Thanks Hilton, you've highlighted a central theme of Baha'i teachings: Justice for all.
  • Hilton McConnell
    Nov 26, 2018
    I agree with the equality of men and women but, if a women wants to do a job of a man then she should do the whole job. I worked for a company that women wanted to operate closing machines, the man had to stay and do the clean up after the shift, but the women complained it was too much for them, so they had to hire more men on the next shift to do it for them. Things like that make hard feelings, and I do not call that being equal. That is only one there many ...more of women only wanting to take over the easy part of the jobs, and letting men do the hard parts, or having to hire more people to make up for what the women do not want to do. Even in the Baha'i the women cant be on World Assembly. Equal wrights equal pay, but make if fair.
  • Will van den Hoonaard
    Nov 24, 2018
    It's innocent enough to escape the attention of most folks, but we often don't speak of the equality of women and men. Thankfully, this article reverses this term which helps all of us to think differently. Our book, The Equality of Women and Men: The Experience of the Bahá’í Community of Canada (2006). Douglas, NB: Deborah and Will van den Hoonaard (reviewed in 2006 (J. of Bahá’í Studies, 16 (1/4): 89-96), in 2008 (Cdn Rev. of Soc. On-line Book Review (2 pp)), in 2009 (Bahá’í Studies Review (15): 161-162) alternates this expression among the chapters. The whole experience, however, was ...eye-opening! Keep up your fine work.
    • Elaine McCreary
      Nov 25, 2018
      I'm glad you and Deborah also put the equality phrase that way. We've been working on this language in the social sciences since the 1980's. The advancement of women in the political-economy of the world has been front and centre in social discourse for a century now since the suffragette movements. But I think the reciprocal evolution of men into compassionate, system-wide awareness and service is the more challenging evolution to achieve. Manhood, male nobility, heroism, servant leadership are moral definitions and ethical behaviours not articulated well in higher education. From my perspective, our campuses need ...a discourse on the evolution of manhood.
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