The United Nations reports that violence against women is the most extreme form of discrimination in the world.
On the basis of data from 2005 to 2016 for 87 countries, 19% of women between 15 and 49 years of age said they had experienced physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner in the 12 month period prior to the survey. In the most extreme cases, such violence often leads to death: in 2012, almost half of all women murdered worldwide were killed by an intimate partner or family member, compared to 6% of male victims.
A few days ago was the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. If you’re a man, the Baha’i teachings ask you to never use force against a woman or a girl:
For a man to use force to impose his will on a woman is a serious transgression of the Baha’i Teachings. – The Universal House of Justice, 24 January 1993, Violence Against Women, Sexual Abuse.
This clear admonition, from the Universal House of Justice, the democratically-elected international body that governs the global Baha’i community, is not a recent invention for Baha’is. Instead, it has its roots in the original gender equity teachings of Baha’u’llah, the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith:
Women and men have been and will always be equal in the sight of God. The Dawning-Place of the Light of God sheddeth its radiance upon all with the same effulgence …
The friends of God must be adorned with the ornament of justice, equality, kindness and love. As they do not allow themselves to be the object of cruelty and transgression, in like manner they should not allow such tyranny to visit the handmaidens of God. He, verily, speaketh the truth and commandeth that which benefiteth His servants and handmaidens. He is the Protector of all in this world and the next. – Baha’u’llah, from a tablet to an individual Baha’i.
For this year, the United Nations has declared that The International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women would initiate 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, a worldwide campaign that aims to raise public awareness and mobilize people everywhere to bring about change. Those 16 days go from November 25th to December 10th, which is Human Rights Day. The theme of that 16-day campaign for 2017 is “Leave No One Behind: End Violence Against Women and Girls.”
Another extreme example of violence against women—female genital mutilation/cutting—has declined by 24% since around 2000. Nevertheless, prevalence remains high in approximately 30 countries. In those countries, recent survey data indicate that more than 1 in 3 girls between 15 and 19 years of age have undergone the procedure, compared to nearly 1 in 2 girls around 2000. We can, in other words, dramatically reduce the violence, assaults, injuries and trauma women and girls suffer if we focus on the issues and work to advance the Baha’i ideal of gender equality.
Research shows—and the Baha’i teachings advocate—that achieving gender equality helps in preventing conflict and reducing violence:
… the principle of the oneness of mankind is described in the Baha’i Writings as the pivot round which all the Teachings of Baha’u’llah revolve. It has widespread implications which affect and remold all dimensions of human activity. It calls for a fundamental change in the manner in which people relate to each other, and the eradication of those age-old practices which deny the intrinsic human right of every individual to be treated with consideration and respect. …
The lack of spiritual values in society leads to a debasement of the attitudes which should govern the relationship between the sexes, with women being treated as no more that objects for sexual gratification and being denied the respect and courtesy to which all human beings are entitled. …
There can be no justification for anyone compelling another, through the use of force or through the threat of violence, to do that to which the other person is not inclined. Abdu’l-Baha has written, “O ye lovers of God! In this, the cycle of Almighty God, violence and force, constraint and oppression, are one and all condemned.” Let those who, driven by their passions or by their inability to exercise discipline in the control of their anger, might be tempted to inflict violence on another human being, be mindful of the condemnation of such disgraceful behaviour by the Revelation of Baha’u’llah. – The Universal House of Justice, 24 January 1993, Violence Against Women, Sexual Abuse.
Baha’is believe that aggression and the use of force against women must be eliminated, and that men must learn to replace that kind of barbaric physical control and dominance with cooperation and consultation:
The world in the past has been ruled by force, and man has dominated over woman by reason of his more forceful and aggressive qualities both of body and mind. But 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.
Many Baha’is all over the world are working hard to help humanity make this essential and much-needed change in gender relations. One Baha’i-inspired organization—the Tahirih Justice Center (www.tahirih.org)–works to end violence against women and girls. Through direct services, policy advocacy, and training and education, Tahirih protects immigrant women and girls and promotes a world where women and girls enjoy equality and live in safety and dignity.
For the next 16 days, people all over the world will work together to reduce violence, sexual assaults and discrimination against the female half of humanity. Will you help?