As discussed in the previous article, Bahá’ís know that gender prejudice exists as a fault line beneath the foundation of our national life, and the damaging effects this has – including that of violence against women. Changes are happening, but these are often more at a legislative level than on a spiritual level. Too often, the pattern of equality (or lack thereof) between men and women rests on unchanged, often unexamined and inherited assumptions. This needs to change!
What needs to be done?
The achievement of full equality requires a new understanding of who we are, what our purpose is in life, and how we relate to one another. This true understanding will compel us to reshape our lives and thereby our society. We are at the early stages of a new century and the challenges are already upon us. Gender inequality influences our families, our lifestyles, our nation and our world. The elements necessary to unify peoples and nations are precisely those needed to bring about equality of the sexes and to improve the relationships between women and men. The effort to overcome the history of inequality requires the full participation of every man, woman, youth, and child.
The Bahá’í vision of equality
The Bahá’í vision of equality between the genders rests on the central spiritual principle of the oneness of humankind. The principle of oneness requires that we “regard humanity as a single individual, and one’s own self as a member of that corporeal form,” and that we foster an unshakable consciousness that, “if pain or injury afflicts any member of that body, it must inevitably result in suffering for all the rest.” (Abdu’l Baha : The Secret of Divine Civilization)
What we know as Bahá’ís, and what it is imperative for us as a society to grasp, is that the full and equal participation of women in all spheres of life is essential to social and economic development, the abolition of war, and the ultimate establishment of a united world. This is an incredibly powerful concept. In the Bahá’í Scriptures the equality of the sexes is a cornerstone of God’s plan for human development and prosperity:
The world of humanity is possessed of two wings: the male and the female. So long as these two wings are not equivalent in strength, the bird will not fly. Until womankind reaches the same degree as man, until she enjoys the same arena of activity, extraordinary attainment for humanity will not be realized; humanity cannot wing its way to heights of real attainment. When the two wings . . . become equivalent in strength, enjoying the same prerogatives, the flight of man will be exceedingly lofty and extraordinary. (Abdu’l Baha : The Promulgation of World Peace)
Ponder on this quotation and the immense power behind it. Its implications are extraordinary when you consider the impact on society embodied within it. Briefly, though, the quotation makes it clear that the entire fabric of society is held back when women are not treated with equality. Moreover, it explains that men will benefit just as much as women when both are equivalent in strength and when both are equally involved in society. Too often it seems that men feel that the rewards and benefits of the world are limited and that, by sharing these with women, their allocation will be diminished. The Bahá’í Writings confirm the opposite – both men and women will achieve their true greatness only when equality is realised. Society consists of one united body of humankind but, just like the bird that cannot fly, it is crippled when one half of it is diminished and unable to achieve its full potential. Thus, the future full glory of society literally depends on our reaching a stage when men and women participate equally in all aspects of life.