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…until woman and man recognize and realize equality, social and political progress here or anywhere will not be possible. For the world of humanity consists of two parts or members: one is woman; the other is man. Until these two members are equal in strength, the oneness of humanity cannot be established, and the happiness and felicity of mankind will not be a reality. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 77.
The male and female are like the two wings of a bird and when both wings are reinforced with the same impulse the bird of humanity will be enabled to soar heaven-ward to the summit of progress. – Abdu’l-Baha, Divine Philosophy, p. 82.
…as long as complete equality does not exist between male and female, the world of humanity will not make extraordinary progress. – Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, Volume 3, p. 206.
No true human progress can occur, the Baha’i teachings say, without equality between the sexes.
Even on the most basic economic level, researchers have proven, nations that liberate and educate their women do much better than nations that don’t grant women legal rights. In fact, it turns out that the world’s poorest and most under-developed countries—the vast majority of them in Africa or the Muslim world—tend to systematically oppress women and deny them their human rights. From female genital mutilation to the deprivation of the right to own property or work outside the home to entire systems of culturally-embedded patriarchal control, the world’s poorest and most backward places all have one thing in common: they refuse to allow women full and equal participation in society.
Obviously, this makes sense. Any group of people that operates by utilizing half of its potential will only achieve a small portion of what it could potentially achieve. Societies that bar women from full and equal roles simply tie one hand behind their backs. Without the contributions of women to the intellectual, social and economic life of a culture, that culture is doomed to fall behind and limit its own progress.
If you look closely at the details embedded in the research on global prosperity, you’ll soon notice something remarkable: the countries that have chosen to educate their women and grant them equal legal rights have advanced, even if they had difficult histories of colonialism, poverty, slavery and tyranny. Nations like India, China, Indonesia, Brazil, Turkey and South Korea all fit into those categories in the recent past—until they emancipated their women. None of those countries, unlike their counterparts who have kept women in their traditionally oppressed roles, now land on the list of the world’s worst economies, and many have flourished.
This clear result comes, the Baha’i teachings say, from the world’s growing realization that the equality of women and men involves an undeniable spiritual principle:
In the world of humanity we find a great difference; the female sex is treated as though inferior, and is not allowed equal rights and privileges. This condition is due not to nature, but to education. In the Divine Creation there is no such distinction. Neither sex is superior to the other in the sight of God. Why then should one sex assert the inferiority of the other, withholding just rights and privileges as though God had given His authority for such a course of action?
…Divine Justice demands that the rights of both sexes should be equally respected since neither is superior to the other in the eyes of Heaven. Dignity before God depends, not on sex, but on purity and luminosity of heart. Human virtues belong equally to all! – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, pp. 161-162.
So when we think about progress, about how society can possibly improve over time, let’s first recognize the enormously important role of women:
Man, endowed with his higher reason, accomplished in attainments and comprehending the realities of things, will surely not be willing to allow a great part of humanity to remain defective or deprived. This would be the utmost injustice. The world of humanity is possessed of two wings: the male and the female. So long as these two wings are not equivalent in strength, the bird will not fly. Until womankind reaches the same degree as man, until she enjoys the same arena of activity, extraordinary attainment for humanity will not be realized; humanity cannot wing its way to heights of real attainment. When the two wings or parts become equivalent in strength, enjoying the same prerogatives, the flight of man will be exceedingly lofty and extraordinary. Therefore, woman must receive the same education as man and all inequality be adjusted. Thus, imbued with the same virtues as man, rising through all the degrees of human attainment, women will become the peers of men, and until this equality is established, true progress and attainment for the human race will not be facilitated. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, pp. 374-375.
When women achieve full equality in any society, that society will flourish, prosper and thrive.