We’ve all heard of the concept of equality between men and women in our working lives, in our personal lives, within the political sphere and in global society as a whole—but the question is “how?”
How can we all take part in the global process of promoting equality between men and women? Where do we start, and what do we do?
The Baha’i writings strongly affirm this principle—in fact, one of the basic teachings of the Baha’i Faith is the equality between men and women.
Perhaps the most well-known example of modern feminism dates back to the 1840’s through the story of Tahirih, who being inspired by the teachings of The Bab, sought to begin the process of making gender equality a reality in her society. During her short life, she raised public consciousness and inspired many political figures and religious clergy, endeavouring with unwavering passion to spread this message. She is known for being the first woman to unveil herself in Iran, and to question both the political and religious orthodoxy of her time. Sadly, she was imprisoned for four years before finally being executed. Her final utterance was: “You can kill me as soon as you like but you cannot stop the emancipation of women.”
Gender equality has to begin with education, a vital force in firmly establishing the equality of sexes in this day and age:
The purpose, in brief, is this: that if woman be fully educated and granted her rights, she will attain the capacity for wonderful accomplishments and prove herself the equal of man. She is the coadjutor of man, his complement and helpmeet. Both are human; both are endowed with potentialities of intelligence and embody the virtues of humanity. In all human powers and functions they are partners and coequals. At present in spheres of human activity woman does not manifest her natal prerogatives, owing to lack of education and opportunity. Without doubt education will establish her equality with men. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 51.
In proclaiming the oneness of mankind He taught that men and women are equal in the sight of God and that there is no distinction to be made between them. The only difference between them now is due to lack of education and training. If woman is given equal opportunity of education, distinction and estimate of inferiority will disappear. – Ibid., p. 62.
The Baha’i writings also say that the family unit must grant equal rights to all of its members:
The integrity of the family bond must be constantly considered, and the rights of the individual members must not be transgressed. The rights of the son, the father, the mother—none of them must be transgressed, none of them must be arbitrary. Just as the son has certain obligations to his father, the father, likewise, has certain obligations to his son. The mother, the sister and other members of the household have their certain prerogatives. All these rights and prerogatives must be conserved, yet the unity of the family must be sustained. The injury of one shall be considered the injury of all; the comfort of each, the comfort of all; the honour of one, the honour of all. – Ibid., p. 168.
Why Men Must Advocate for Equality Between Men and Women
But the responsibility for the equality of the sexes does not rest solely with women. In this all-important process, the Baha’i teachings point out, men must play a key role:
Men, for their part, must learn to cooperate with women and encourage their efforts. When men actively promote the principle of equality, women will no longer have to struggle for their rights. Gradually, Baha’is believe, both women and men will discard long-held unhealthy attitudes and progressively incorporate into their lives the values conducive to true unity… – The Baha’i International Community, Statement on the Development of Women, Mar 11, 1992.
Men must inform and educate themselves about this principle in order to become advocates of equality between men and women:
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. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 175.
Along with these methods, many other practical ways exist that will allow all of us to take part in this global process through our everyday actions, our decisions and the examples we set for others.