A Baha’i Perspective
In 1975 the United Nations adopted 8th March as International Women’s Day, which every year is given a global theme. This year’s theme is ‘Balance for Better’
We live in a world where there is a crucial need for balance and harmony. ‘Balance for better’ – for the betterment of the world – is vital in many aspects of our lives. Such balance needs to be created by acknowledging the gender equality and the complementary roles of men and women in the advancement of civilization. It is to be created through combining science and religion, and through providing intellectual education together with spiritual guidance. Another urgent requirement for the betterment of our societies is the balancing of the material and spiritual aspects in our lives.
As we celebrate International Women’s Day, let us reflect on the role of empowerment and education of women for the creation of a more balanced world. Women and men complement each other in their roles and functions. The happiness and stability of humanity cannot be assured unless both women and men are treated as equals.
In spite of positive efforts made in the last few decades to ensure equal rights and education for women and girls, various forms of discrimination against them still persist. In many cultures women have a lower status and enjoy fewer rights and opportunities than men – both in their families and within society. Even in terms of education, sons still often get preference over daughters.
The advancement of civilization now requires the full participation of everyone, including women. For this to happen both girls and boys must be valued by their families and by society and given equal opportunities for education, and in all other fields of human endeavour.
According to the Bahá’í Writings, “men and women are equal in the sight of God … 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”.
Education is a basic human right
According to the Bahá’í teachings, education should be provided for all. Girls are to be given equal opportunity and access to education. The capacity of women is the same as man and she has the potential to achieve any goal, if she is educated and given the same opportunities.
In a statement entitled: ‘The Promise of World Peace’, the governing council of the Bahá’í international community asserts: “The cause of universal education … deserves the utmost support that the governments of the world can lend it. For ignorance is indisputably the principal reason for the decline and fall of peoples and the perpetuation of prejudice. No nation can achieve success unless education is accorded all its citizens”.
Moreover, as the first educator of children the education of women assumes a special importance. According to the governing council of the Bahá’í International Community: “The decision-making agencies involved would do well to consider giving first priority to the education of women and girls, since it is through educated mothers that the benefits of knowledge can be most effectively and rapidly diffused throughout society. In keeping with the requirements of the times, consideration should also be given to teaching the concept of world citizenship as part of the standard education of every child”.
Women and girls’ education is very important for the well-being and advancement of communities and nations. Without using the potential, the talents and skills of both women and men, full social and economic development of the planet will not be possible
Of course, the benefits of women’s education are not only in terms of social economic development, as people often view it, but, material well-being is only one of the many benefits our communities derive from their education.
First educators of humanity
Although both parents share in the overall responsibility of educating their children, the mother is given recognition as the first educator of humanity, and she must be carefully prepared for this task. Because a mother cannot pass on what she does not have. A child needs a nurturing environment and wise guidance particularly, in the first years of life, in order to develop sound character and a well-trained mind.
The Bahá’í Writings state "If the mother is educated then her children will be well taught. When the mother is wise, then will the children be led into the path of wisdom. If the mother be religious she will show her children how they should love God. If the mother is moral she guides her little ones into the ways of uprightness”.
How to create the conditions in which girls can develop to their full potential, is our challenge today. The creation of such conditions will involve not only deliberate attempts to change various structures of society, but, equally important in the transformation of individuals – men and women, boys and girls.
Empowerment and education of women, and her equality with men, will bring about a more peaceful and balanced world, a world in which the more masculine qualities of force and courage will be balanced by intuition, love and service; qualities in which women are strong.