…in the two lower kingdoms of nature we have seen that there is no question of the superiority of one sex over the other. In the world of humanity we find a great difference; the female sex is treated as though inferior, and is not allowed equal rights and privileges. This condition is due not to nature, but to education. In the Divine Creation there is no such distinction. Neither sex is superior to the other in the sight of God.
In a talk given in Paris about the equality of men and women (the tenth principle of Bahá’í techings), `Abdu’l-Bahá proclaims the necessity of the equitable treatment of women. He explains that the order of nature allows for a balance between sexes. Owing to a lack of education, our collective ignorance keeps women, and men, from realizing their potential. Gender equality is a prime requisite for collective prosperity.
During our dark past, there have been countless injustices inflicted on the vulnerable. Humans are propelled by unknowable forces to evolve over time and each age has unique needs and requirements. We owe our lives to the relatively brutal practices of the past, and cannot disassociate ourselves from them. In thinking about justice for women, we would do well to avoid the demonization of men, a trademark of immaturity, which simply employs the tools of warfare on a different target. All civilizations have arisen out of the guidance and leadership that Prophets of God have provided. It is in Their name that great churches, shrines, hospitals, schools and cities have been built. The Enlightenment that brought material prosperity to Europe and the Western world came from Islamic thought. The superstitious banning of the printing press in the East cast its peoples into a dark age that it is just now emerging from.
Women are at the forefront of teaching and literacy programs, they will even risk their lives at the hands of oppressive regimes in order to set up schools in secret. In Afghanistan for example, many tribal men have, based on their misinterpretation of a Quranic verse, formed barbaric gangs to attack women and girls for seeking education. Ironically, these gangs aim to protect the prosperity of their people.
Women are the first educators of children and have a unique bond with them. When women receive greater education and opportunities, everyone benefits in myriad ways. As the deeply established biases in our public institutions are slowly removed, it is more and more apparent that women are the bedrock of an equitable and just society. `Abdu’l-Bahá explains: “In some respects woman is superior to man. She is more tender-hearted, more receptive, her intuition is more intense.”
In light of such encouraging words, it would be fitting to elevate the prevalent discourse and be cognizant of the subtleties involved in making gender equality a reality. Justice and mercy must go hand in hand, as many civil rights activists of the past, such as Martin Luther King Jr., have shown us. `Abdu’l-Bahá explains that, “When men own the equality of women there will be no need for them to struggle for their rights!”.
Photo by Chad Mauger, www.flickr.com/chadmauger