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The Baha’i teachings say that men need to be champions for women’s rights, and create opportunities for women to share their insights, talents and guidance.
Sometimes this will require putting egos aside and giving females the priority, especially when time or resources are limited.
Among the Baha’i teachings, one fascinating law unique to this new era of spiritual guidance asks families with limited resources who cannot afford to educate all their children to give educational priority to the girl child. She is recognised in the Baha’i teachings as the first educator of the next generation. Through educated mothers, women become empowered and whole societies progress.
Women need to exhibit bravery and be prepared to constantly persevere in the face of injustice, fear, and the egos of those who struggle to listen.
Tahirih, a poetess and heroine of the early days of the Baha’i Faith, expresses this truth beautifully. Tahirih lived in the mid-1800’s in Persia (now Iran). She convinced a kind uncle to teach her to read, and would listen to lectures while hidden behind curtains, since her culture did not allow the education of girls. She memorized the Qur’an at an early age, and eventually embraced the Babi Faith, the herald and precursor of the Baha’i Faith. Tahirih wrote beautiful poetry about God and about new revolutionary ideas that shocked the Persian clergy. Her fame spread, and hundreds came to hear her speak. Her heartfelt and fearless love for God and dedication to learning moved many women—and men. She even unveiled herself publicly. She was eventually sentenced to death for refusing to stay silent. She dressed in a beautiful white gown on the day of her execution and when she arrived at the site where she was to be hung she declared, “You can kill me as soon as you like but you cannot stop the emancipation of women.”
Amidst great oppression in a region of the world where women still constantly fight for basic human rights, this brave woman fearlessly lived by her principles and with great courage taught her message of love and strength to all who would listen. Simultaneously in the West, women in the United States were granted the right to vote. A new energy and excitement for women’s emancipation was building all over the world.
However, today many women still experience deep-rooted oppression, restricted by systems that do not celebrate or even allow the contributions they can potentially make.
These women need strong men to stand in their defence and help fight for their rights. Until women are equally represented as judges and in other positions of power, Baha’is believe it is the duty of every conscientious man to champion women’s rights. All men will be deprived of the greatness that could be theirs until women are elevated to their level—in education, in life opportunities, in pay and in societal status. Many women fight for their rights, but when those who oppress see that many men will also not tolerate discrimination and proudly stand alongside their female counterparts, then change will happen more quickly and efficiently.
If you had a broken arm, you would not spend all your time at the gym strengthening your strong arm, you would spend your time mending and rehabilitating the weak arm and then strengthening it to match your other arm. Then and only then would you make a recovery that would allow you to function optimally. Being a champion for women’s rights and development will make men true heroes, as well as humble beings growing to their full potential. It will also equalize both genders, giving full opportunity and freedom to everyone:
Woman must endeavour then to attain greater perfection, to be man’s equal in every respect, to make progress in all in which she has been backward, so that man will be compelled to acknowledge her equality of capacity and attainment … So will it be with woman; her actions will show her power, there will no longer be any need to proclaim it by words.
It is my hope that women of the East, as well as their Western sisters, will progress rapidly until humanity shall reach perfection.
Equality does not mean sameness. Men and women are strong in various qualities that are meant to complement one another. With this beautiful balance of shared strength, the sky becomes the limit.
Sisters, mothers, girls, grandmothers and aunties possess enormous latent potential: the potential to discover cures for diseases, the potential to end poverty, the potential to obliterate war and help govern the nations of the world. When they support one another, educate one another and enjoy the support and encouragement of men, there is no telling what glory will be manifested.
As all peacemakers move forward, let us make concrete action plans on the practical steps we can take to support women and all humankind. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- When you are part of a dialogue and you find it is dominated by male speakers, speak out and say, “I’d like to hear what my sister thinks.” This is a gentle way of encouraging men to make a space and for women to practice assertiveness and bravery.
- Avoid statements to females that are gender specific such as:
- “You are getting so beautiful; your dad must be worried about the boys…”
- “You like soccer! Really!?…”
- “Isn’t your biological clock clicking?”
- Avoid making statements that in any way degrade, silence or potentially embarrass a woman in her presence or behind her back.
- Be the brave man that lends a hand with tasks often expected of women without being asked; or be the brave woman that asks for the man to come help with the children, cooking, etc.
- Encourage girls and women to walk tall, to speak with confidence and honor their ideas and words with great consideration by truly listening to their thoughts, their hearts and their solutions.
- Challenge gender roles with all their limitations and stereotypes.
One day my 10-year-old daughter noticed the males were sitting at the table while the women started preparing dinner. She said boldly, “Isn’t this not equality of women and men since the ladies cooked last night and the guys are just sitting around?” The three men sitting were so surprised at her observation, but also ready to smile and say, “You’re right. Let us make dinner tonight!” I was so proud that at the age of 10 she had already found her voice, her bravery and her sense of justice. I was also so proud that the men and my son were ready for the challenge. When males learn to encourage and praise these qualities and listen to females as their equals, progress is truly limitless and all humanity will unleash our boundless potential for true and lasting growth.
It is time to dedicate ourselves to these efforts—for when we succeed, we will have attained the age of spiritual maturity as a human race.