27. WOMEN: THE ONLY 51% MINORITY?
Several decades ago I was privileged to attend a meeting at the Beehive (NZ's centre of Government) to meet the then Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr. Boutros Boutros-Ghali.
As I sat there I realised how much that gathering reminded me of those familiar televised scenes of the United Nations in session. It was similar in one crucial respect - in that large room full of people I was very aware of being one of the very few female faces in a sea of men. And one of the few wearing colourful clothing in a sea of stern black suits.
In the past it was all too easy for a women to believe that she had little to contribute outside the family home; what possible influence could she or others of her gender have on the future of the planet?
Baha'u'llah advocated the necessity for independent investigation of reality - whether scientific or religious, for both men and women - in order that all people will develop in accord with their own convictions, freed from dependence upon the learning or the approval of others; to become self-educating.
In the past we needed Priests, Rabbis and Mullahs because they were the only ones in society who had the privilege of a level of education required to read and study the Holy Books of the time.
Today, our aim is for all to become self-educating, requiring all members have access to universal education.
Because the true reality of man is his thought, not his material condition, it therefore follows that true education will necessarily involve the training of thought.
All Baha'i principles and practices have a role in facilitating this process of education, to some degree.
Lack of resources temporarily limit the ability of communities and nations to totally fulfil the provision of ideal education, imposing a certain ordering of priorities. Decision-making agencies would benefit from applying the Baha'i principle of 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 complete participation of women in every aspect of human life will enhance all humanity and greatly accelerate the advancement of society in general.
Until the present time, fully one half of the world’s population has been repressed. In order to gain the benefits which will follow the liberation of this vast body of human resources, opportunities for equal education must be provided and the barriers to advancement and progress be removed.
Inherent in this great expansion of human resources is the increased ability of our age to resolve many of those issues which until now had proved both major and insoluble.
In harmony with the explicit principle of equality is a recognition of the diversity of human society, a harmony expressed in the phrase Unity in Diversity.
In addition to the uniqueness of talent and capacity which exists between individuals, the Baha'i Faith acknowledges difference in physical condition. Women have the unique capacity to bear and nurture infant children, and have a special role to play in these early years, especially in the area of moral education, as a foundation of good character and values such as truth, courtesy, kindliness, cleanliness and so forth, is laid down in the hearts of the children.
However, far from limiting the roles of either sex, the Baha’I concept of equality fosters a broader range of human endeavour. The horizons of men must also be widened, freeing them from a narrow range of stereotyped roles and behaviours, empowering them to express a range of qualities, and to fulfil roles, which in the past were often considered unmasculine, including full involvement in the nurturing and development of their children.
Children will be greatly benefitted through receiving parenting from better trained and educated women, and from fathers who are freed from many historical restraints which have limited their involvement with their children.