As we continue celebrating Women’s Month, let us reflect on the progress made toward the education and equal rights and opportunities for girls, while looking ahead to overcoming the challenges that remain.
Despite many efforts to, and visible improvements in the last few decades in ensuring equal education and other rights for girls and women, various forms of discrimination against them still persist. In many cultures, girls have a lower status and enjoy fewer rights and opportunities than boys – both in their families and within society. Even in terms of schooling boys get preference to girls.
It is the Bahá’í view that, education of girls in the best interests of society as a whole. The advancement of civilization requires the full participation of everyone, men and women equally. For this to happen, girls, as well as boys, must be valued by their families and by society and given equal opportunities in all fields of human endeavour.
Universal education deserves the utmost support
The Universal House of Justice, the governing council of the Bahá’í international community states: “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”.
The Universal House of Justice continues to say that: “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”.
The education of every child, and the development of their personality, talents, mental and physical abilities and spiritual qualities to their fullest potential, is the right of every child – whether boy or girl. Education and training of girls is crucial to the well-being and advancement of communities and nations. Without the qualities, talents and skills of both women and men, full social and economic development of the planet is impossible.
The benefits of girl’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 women’s and girls’ education.
As girls and boys are equal in intellectual capacity and in potential to serve humanity, they should study the same curriculum. The way should be open for women and girls to enter all spheres of human endeavour, including the arts and sciences, agriculture, commerce, industry and the affairs of state. There is no natural limit on women’s abilities.
According to the Bahá’í Writings: “… men and women are equal in the sight of God … there is no distinction to be made between them. 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”.
Mothers as first educators
Mothers can be the primary agents for empowering individuals to transform society. They can instil in their children self-esteem and respect for others. In a family, 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.
Girls must be educated spiritually, emotionally and intellectually. 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.
As 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. … 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”.
Girls will not only render service to humanity as mothers and first educators of the next generation, but, as women, they will make special contributions to the creation of a just world order. According to the Bahá’í Writings: “Until the reality of equality between man and woman is fully established and attained, the highest social development of mankind is not possible”.
The essence of any program of social change is the understanding that the individual has a spiritual or moral dimension. This shapes their understanding of their life’s purpose, their responsibilities towards the family, the community and the world. The development of individuals’ moral and spiritual capabilities, as well as changes in our social structures are both necessary for eliminating discrimination against girls and women.
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OPINION: Flora Teckie