Key to overcoming gender-based violence

“16 days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence”, we will be observing from 25 November and 10 December, is an opportune time to reflect on the progress made towards empowerment of women, while looking ahead to overcoming the challenges that still remain.

There has been noteworthy improvement in the status of women and girls in the last few decades. However, violence against them continues globally, due to some social norms, religious fanaticism and the conventional beliefs that women are inferior to men.

As the international community struggles to implement laws to protect women and girls, there is evidently a huge gap between legal measures and the values, beliefs and practices required to stop the epidemic. Currently, we need to overcome not only a global health pandemic, but also another global epidemic – gender-based violence – aggravated during the health crises.

It is the Bahá’í view that recognition of our oneness – the oneness of human race – is the key to overcoming our prejudices – whether gender-based, racial or religious – that frequently lead to discrimination and violence. “The principle of the oneness of humankind lies at the heart of the exhortation that we should treat others as we ourselves would wish to be treated. To establish justice, peace and order in an interdependent world, this principle must guide all interactions, including those between men and women. If the treatment of women were scrutinized in the light of this ethical standard, we would doubtless move beyond many traditional, religious and cultural practices,”states the Bahá’í International Community.

Importance of gender equality for eradicating violence

A commitment to the establishment of full equality between men and women in the family, work place and in our communities will be central to the success of efforts to eradicate violence against women and girls.

“Women and men,” the Bahá’í Writings state “have been and will always be equal in the sight of God”, and that “The world of humanity has two wings – one is women and the other men.  Not until both wings are equally developed can the bird fly. Should one wing remain weak, flight is impossible”.

Human soul has no gender and the social inequities, which may have been dictated by the survival requirements of the past, cannot be justified at a time when humanity stands at the threshold of maturity.

Our commitment to implement gender equality is not only a requirement for building healthy and happy families and societies, but it also has an impact on the establishment of global peace.  As the Universal House of Justice, the governing council of the Bahá’í international community, states: “Only as women are welcomed into full partnership in all fields of human endeavour will the moral and psychological climate be created in which international peace can emerge”.

In our efforts to combat gender violence, it is important to start by educating children both at home and in school with values that promote equality and justice. It is the responsibility of individuals and institutions to make sure that younger generation is raised free from prejudice against women and girls.

According to the statement of the Bahá’í International Community, violence prevention strategies must include “cultivating in them (children) a sense of dignity as well as a responsibility for the well-being of their family, community, and the world”.

Children should be taught about gender equality and to be just towards both men and women and indeed all human race.  This will help protecting them from prejudices that are currently the greatest cause for violence.

A shift is required in the mindset, values, outlook and conduct

To achieve gender equality there is need for a shift in the mindset, values, outlook and conduct of both men and women. For such a shift to be effective, it needs to take into account that individuals have a spiritual or moral dimension and that this dimension shapes their understanding of their life’s purpose, their responsibilities towards the family, the community and the world. 

Drawing their inspiration and authority from religion, moral and ethical values serve to define our attitudes and to motivate and orient our behaviour. As stated in the Bahá’í Writings:  “…there are two safeguards that protect man from wrongdoing. One is the law which punishes the criminal; but the law prevents only the manifest crime and not the concealed sin; whereas the ideal safeguard, namely, the religion of God, prevents both the manifest and the concealed crime, trains man, educates morals, compels the adoption of virtues … But by religion is meant that which is ascertained by investigation and not that which is based on mere imitation, the foundation of Divine Religions and not human imitations”.

In search for solutions to prevent gender-based violence, therefore, it is essential to deal not only with the outward and legal aspects of the problem, but also with the inward dimension that concern the cultural, moral, and religious spheres of life. There will also be need for a profound adjustment in our outlook – guided by the spiritual principles that promote justice towards everyone and the oneness of human family in order to eradicate such violence.

OPINION: Flora Teckie