November 25th has been designated as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and from this day until Human Rights Day on December 10th. Baha’is throughout Trinidad and Tobago are planning activities to create awareness of violence against women and to provide a forum for discussion to seek potential solutions.
Throughout history men, due to their superior physical strength, have assumed the role of provider and protector for the women and children in their family. The submissive woman was expected to respect and obey the father and husband who looked after her while she nurtured her sons and daughters. This balance of mutual existence has, however.disintegrated in many societies and male dominance has been severely abused. World-wide statistics today reveal the suffering of women at the hands of men, their intended protectors. Atrocities such as domestic violence, rape, incest, child marriages, female genital mutilation and so called ‘honour killings’ are perpetrated against women and girls, who may also be sold into economic slavery or prostitution. Women are also denied their rights to property, inheritance and freedom of movement.
The status of women and girls has improved to some extent over the past 50 years and many have achieved higher rates of literacy, education and earning power. Laws have also been passed internationally to protect women, but it is difficult to implement them due to cultural values, behaviours and institutions. These societal values are initially forged and accepted in the family. The family teaches children about the nature of power and its expression in interpersonal relationships between men and women. They learn to accept authoritarian rule and violence as a means of expression. The family unit is the foundation of the community and the nation, thus, if violence is committed against women and girls in this environment there will be repercussions in the wider society.
Religions traditionally cultivate the values of the community. Yet some power seeking individuals today use religion as an obstacle to eradicating violent and exploitative behaviours perpetrated against women. Likewise some governments fail to punish and prevent violence against women and girls. In a male dominated society, they lack the political will to act and hide behind religious and cultural reservations to ignore international treaties, which condemn such violence.
The Teachings of the Baha’i Faith have always stressed the advancement of women, but not to create beings, who are superior to men. Rather they advocate that women should become equal partners and cooperate with men in order to bring about the harmonious advancement of the whole society. Baha'u'llah, the Founder of the Baha’i Faith says that, “Humanity is like a bird with its two wings - the one is male, the other female. Unless both wings are strong and impelled by some common force, the bird cannot fly heavenwards. According to the spirit of this age, women must advance and fulfill their mission in all departments of life, becoming equal to men. They must be on the same level as men and enjoy equal rights.”
This implies that humanity as a whole can never realize its full potential until women have truly attained their rightful status and receive equal opportunities to progress. As long as women are prevented from attaining their highest possibilities, so long will men be unable to achieve the greatness which is theirs. This cannot be forced upon an unwilling society, but the progress and proficiency of women can only be achieved when they are granted equal education and opportunity. It is thus, important to educate men in some societies to change their views about an inferior role for women and it is important to encourage and advise women so that they are able to take full advantage of education , both material and spiritual , thus, enabling them to become the equals of men in all fields of endeavour. The Baha’i Writings state that the happiness of mankind will be realized when women and men coordinate and advance equally, for they are the compliment and helpmeet of each other.
It is so important that women should be educated that Baha’u’llah has said that although boys and girls should both receive education, the girls should have priority. This is because women bear the children and nurture them in their earliest years and they are thus the first educators of the next generation. Their influence upon their child will thus, have a tremendous and lasting impact, which will remain with the child for the rest of his or her life. If women are well educated, forming peaceful ideals and abandoning all prejudices, their influence upon the next generation will effect the future of society and result in the advancement of civilization as a whole.
The time has come for a change in our attitude towards women and girls, who represent half the population of the world. The teachings of the Baha’i Faith advocate the peaceful transformation of society, a transformation based on justice, involving education for all, the alleviation of poverty and the abandonment of deeply rooted prejudices. Abdul-Baha, the son of Baha’u’llah, tells us that, “The world in the past has been ruled by force, and man has dominated over woman by reason of his more forceful and aggressive qualities both of body and mind. But the balance is already shifting: force is losing its dominance, and mental alertness, intuition, and the spiritual qualities of love and service, in which women are strong, are gaining ascendancy.”
At a time when conquest and aggression have lost their credibility as means of solving difficult problems, qualities in which women are strong, such as the capacity to link intuition to the other rational processes, and facility with networking and co-operation, are gaining importance. The involvement of women in making decisions at all levels of society is an essential element in the attainment of world-wide unity, and as Bahá'u'lláh wrote more than a century ago, "The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established."
In the document issued by the Baha’i International Community in 2006 entitled “Beyond Legal Reforms: Culture and Capacity in the Eradication of Violence against Women and Girls,” two suggestions are advocated to foster the spiritual, social and intellectual development of all persons and transform the world into a non-violent society. The first involves education for all in moral values relevant to our society today, which are consistent with the ideals of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the collective progress of the entire human race.
The curriculum suggested is based upon the belief that every person is a spiritual being with limitless potential for noble action. Its objectives include the ability: to participate in non-adversarial collective decision making; to act with rectitude of conduct based on ethical and moral principles; to cultivate one’s sense of dignity and self worth; to take initiative in a creative, disciplined form; to commit to empowering educational activities; to create a vision of a desired future based on shared values and principles and to inspire others to work for its fulfilment; to understand relationships based on dominance and to contribute towards their transformation into relationships based on reciprocity and service.
The second recommendation is the support of an autonomous United Nations agency with a comprehensive mandate dedicated to the full range of women’s rights and concerns. This would guarantee women a voice at the highest levels of decision making in the United Nations
Violence against women and girls is an obstacle to the achievement of equality, development and peace. The progress of humanity depends on men and women working together; therefore, both must be equally developed. Women, given equal opportunities for education, have already proven to be the equals of men in intellectual and creative capacity. Men must encourage and facilitate the full development of women, as women must support men in their development towards this new condition of a peaceful, non-violent society.
Courtesy: The National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Trinidad & Tobago