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Do you accept the idea that men and women are equal? If you do, how do you practice that principle?
Do you raise your male and female children the same way, with the same education, the same empowerment, the same rights and the same privileges? Do you treat men and women equally where you work? Do you relate to your spouse as an equal? Do you actively advocate for gender equality?
We’ve made global progress on many of these crucial issues, but women have not achieved equality yet—not by a long shot. Yes, in some societies they’re getting closer—but as the United Nations reports, in most places women still have a long way to go before they can claim their full birthright to equality:
- About a third of countries in the world’s developing regions have not achieved gender parity in primary education
- In Southern Asia, only 74 girls were enrolled in primary school for every 100 boys in 1990. By 2012, the enrollment ratios were the same for girls as for boys.
- In sub-Saharan Africa, Oceania and Western Asia, girls still face barriers to entering both primary and secondary school.
- Women in Northern Africa hold less than one in five paid jobs in the non-agricultural sector. The proportion of women in paid employment outside the agriculture sector has increased from 35 per cent in 1990 to 41 per cent in 2015
In almost every country, women are paid less than men for doing the same jobs. Women still suffer from discrimination, violence and rape in all countries. The World Economic Forum publishes the Global Gender Gap Index every year, and last year they reported that “progress is still too slow for realizing the full potential of one half of humanity within our lifetimes.”
In Western cultures, women have made historic advances—but very recently, less than a century ago in the western world, most women couldn’t hold office, own real estate or vote. Many were still considered the property of their husbands, and consigned to virtual slavery as a result. Even in exceedingly progressive nations, the old habits of paternalism have proven hard to break.
More than a hundred and seventy years ago, at the same time women had just begun to fight for their rights and their equality in the West, the Baha’i teachings advocated gender equality:
… God is not pleased that so important an instrument as woman should suffer from want of training in order to attain the perfections desirable and necessary for her great life’s work! 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!
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.
This primary Baha’i principle of the equality of men and women, as you might imagine, was not well-received in 19th-Century Persia where the Baha’i Faith began. In that culture, women suffered enormously, and had few if any human rights. But Baha’u’llah, undeterred by the prevailing mode of extreme paternalism, declared gender equality a reality:
The teachings of Baha’u’llah embody many principles … One of these principles concerns equality between men and women. He declared that as all are created in the image and likeness of the one God, there is no distinction as to sex in the estimation of God. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 395.
Today, the global Baha’i community advocates for women’s rights on a daily basis. Democratically-elected Baha’i councils and representatives at the local, national and international levels work diligently for women’s rights, actively engaging civil society and urging the adoption of laws, policies and treaties that formally establish gender equality.
With that active engagement in mind, the global Baha’i community invites every man and every woman to join us in the struggle.