Wednesday, April 21, 2010

How the balance of justice is being set: Part 5

JUSTICE FOR MEN AND WOMEN

It has been the male half of the human race that has mostly run society throughout history. Although mankind has evolved as much as it has, this may be more in spite of, rather than because of, the fact that men and not women have traditionally occupied most of the key powerful positions in society... 'Abdu'l-Baha has remarked:
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 loosing its dominance, and mental alertness, intuition and the spiritual qualities of love and service, in which woman is strong, are gaining ascendancy (BNE,183).
...a main feature of this age of transition must be the advent of justice for men and women:
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. Human virtues belong equally to all! (PT,162)
God's alternative to the deprivation of women in society ... involves the recognition of gender equality:
And among the teachings of His Holiness Baha'u'llah is the equality of women and men. (BWF,288)

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 fulfil 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 is my earnest prayer and it is one of the fundamental principles of Baha'u'llah. (BNE,181)

He (God) has endowed both sexes with perfections and intelligence, given them physical members and organs of sense, without differentiation or distinction as to superiority; therefore why should women be considered inferior? ...This is not according to the plan and justice of God. He has created them equal; in his estimation there is no question of sex. (PUP,169-170)
'Abdu'l-Baha has explored the implications for education of this recognition of the equality of men and women:
Woman's lack of progress and proficiency has been due to her need for equal education and opportunity. (BWF,241)

Therefore, surely God is not pleased that so important an instrument as women should suffer from want of training in order to attain the perfections desirable and necessary for her great life's work! (PT,162)

He (Baha'u'llah) promulgated the adoption of the same course of education for man and woman. Daughters and sons must follow the same curriculum of study, thereby promoting the unity of the sexes. (PUP,170)

Women must go on advancing; they must extend their knowledge of science, literature, history, for the perfection of humanity... I expect to see you advance in all phases of life; then will your brows be crowned with the diadem of eternal glory. (BNE,183)
...Along with this development in the world of affairs, 'Abdu'l-Baha said that "women must make the greatest effort to acquire spiritual power and to increase in the virtue of wisdom and holiness..." (PT,163). Thus, God's alternative to the unjust prestige gradient which has prevailed exalting male roles over female roles, is for society to educate both sexes equally according to the capacity of the individuals involved and to open to women occupations which use this training and which have been filled primarily by men in the past.

'Abdu'l-Baha has described in some detail the specific consequences of acceptance by men and women of God's standard of justice for the sexes. First, it will be recognized that woman is in fact the "counterpart of man in ability and capacity" (BWF,241). 'Abdu'l-Baha points out that social esteem will be accorded on the basis of ability and service rather than on the basis of gender, with the following result:
If woman is given equal opportunity of education, distinction and estimate of inferiority will disappear. (PUP,170)

Today among the Baha'is of Persia there are many women who are the very pride and envy of the men. They are imbued with all the virtues and excellences of humanity. They are eloquent, they are poets and scholars and embody the quintessence of humility. In political ability and acumen they have been able to compete with representative men. (PUP,132)
The recognition of this equality of ability is crucial because it will counteract the tendency of women today to be unsure of their latent capacity and insecure about their identity and self-concept, because the social system in which they function puts them at every turn in a secondary position in comparison with men.

As a second consequence, 'Abdu'l-Baha foreshadows improved relationships between men and women, "unity of the sexes" (PUP,170), for example, in the family, "when women and men coordinate and advance equally, for each is the complement and helpmate of the other" (BWF,241).

A third definite consequence will be the improved condition of mankind:
The world of humanity has two wings -- one is women and the other men. Not until both wings are equally developed can the bird fly. Should one wing remain weak, flight is impossible. Not until the world of women becomes equal to the world of men in the acquisition of virtues and perfections, can success and prosperity be attained as they ought to be. (BWF,288)

Hence the new age will be an age less masculine and more permeated with the feminine ideals, or, to speak more exactly, will be an age in which the masculine and feminine elements of civilization will be more evenly balanced. (BNE,183-184)
The development of women of their spiritual power, talents, and capacities will, according to 'Abdu'l-Baha, help establish "the unity of mankind" (PT,163). Perhaps most specific and important are the following statements by 'Abdu'l-Baha (emphasis mine):
When all mankind shall receive the same opportunity of education and the equality of men and women is realized, the foundations of war will be utterly destroyed. Without equality this will be impossible because all differences and distinction are conducive to discord and strife. Equality between men and women is conducive to the abolition of warfare for the reason that women will never be willing to sanction it. Mothers will not give their sons as sacrifices upon the battlefield after twenty years of anxiety and loving devotion in rearing them from infancy, no matter what the cause they are called upon to defend. There is no doubt that when women obtain equality of rights war will entirely cease among mankind. (PUP,170)

Ere long they will receive their rights. Men will see women in earnest, bearing themselves with dignity, improving civil and political life, opposed to warfare, demanding suffrage and equal opportunities. (BNE,183)
Finally, obedience to God's alternative with regard to justice for men and women aids the growth of the Cause of God:
In this day there are women among the Baha'is who far outshine men. They are wise, talented, well-informed, progressive, most intelligent and the light of men. They surpass men in courage. When they speak in meetings, the men listen with great respect. (PUP,170)

In Persia the men have aided it (the Baha'i Faith) more but in the west perchance the women. In the west women evidently have precedence in religion but in the east men surpass the women. (PUP,165)

Among the miracles which distinguish this sacred Dispensation is this, that women have evinced a greater boldness than men when enlisted in the ranks of the Faith. (ADJ,57)
References (page numbers from pre-1970 editions)
ADJ, Advent of Divine Justice, by Shoghi Effendi
BNE, Baha'u'llah and the New Era, by J.E. Esslemont
BWF, Baha'i World Faith (quotes from Baha'u'llah and 'Abdu'l-Baha)
PT, Paris Talks, by 'Abdu'l-Baha
PUP, Promulgation of Universal Peace, by 'Abdu'l-Baha
© 2010 James J Keene
[Note: This is a shortened version of teaching materials by the author used in years around 1970.]