Bahá’ís promote universal education, but also say, when a choice must be made, that girls should be educated in preference over boys—why is that, and isn’t such an idea unfair to boys?
Let’s start by acknowledging that during a time when it was quite uncommon, Bahá’u’lláh not only advocated for education for everyone, but also emphasized that it should be mandatory worldwide. This is closely linked to the following Baha’i teachings:
The belief that every human being possesses unique talents and abilities, and that education is the key to discovering and utilizing these “gems” within us, benefiting everyone.
The belief in the importance of personal exploration of spiritual truth, which necessitates at least a basic education to read and understand God’s teachings and His vision for humanity.
The recognition of each individual’s responsibility to acquire a profession or trade, enabling them to actively contribute to society and actively participate in the progress of a harmonious and ever-advancing civilization.
Isn’t it fascinating to discover that Bahá’u’lláh actually shared these forward-thinking concepts around 150 years ago? This remarkable revelation came during a time when He was exiled from His home, residing in a society that faced numerous challenges. Despite being a religious Prisoner under a neighboring repressive regime, Bahá’u’lláh introduced ideas that were truly ahead of their time. It’s worth noting that previous religions did not include similar principles of universal education within their teachings, as these topics were not addressed in their scriptures.
One of the most groundbreaking concepts put forth in the Bahá’í Writings, which you inquired about and still manages to surprise many even today, is the provision that…
“If there is not money enough in a family to educate both the girl and the boy the money must be dedicated to the girl’s education, for she is the potential mother.” – ‘Abdu’l-Baha
It’s quite enlightening to discover that research abundantly confirms the outdated belief that prioritizing the education of boys over girls, which stems from traditional notions of male dominance and the assumption that educated males can provide more for their families, is nothing but an anachronism. In fact, when it comes to fulfilling children’s most fundamental needs, it’s important to note that…
“The single most important correlate of child survival is not, as might be expected, the family’s wealth or the availability of medical facilities, but the mother’s educational level.”
– International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh
The Bahá’í Writings unequivocally state that
“The training which a child first receives through his mother constitutes the strongest foundation for his future development” – Shoghi Effendi
Hence, it is only rational to prioritize girls’ education since they are the future mothers of the next generation. By doing so, they can cultivate an environment in their homes that is best suited for their children’s overall well-being and progress, both in terms of material and spiritual aspects.
When it comes to the question of whether it’s fair to prioritize educating daughters over sons when a family lacks sufficient funds to educate all their children, let’s consider this: Numerous studies have consistently shown that if girls and women had been given educational advantages in the past generation instead of being left uneducated or under-educated, the world we live in today would undoubtedly be a much better place!
In fact, information shared by the UN Office of the Bahá’í International Community during the 39th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women in 1995 revealed that for more than 30 years, research in the field of development has consistently highlighted a strong connection between various crucial development indicators and the education of girls.
We’ve seen ample evidence that a mother’s education plays a crucial role in bringing about positive changes in various aspects of society. From reducing infant mortality rates, fertility rates, and the prevalence of AIDS, to making improvements in the environment, it’s clear that the education of mothers makes a significant difference. What’s more, the positive impact increases with each additional year a girl stays in school.
When we consider all the benefits that come with educating girls, it becomes evident that it yields a higher rate of return than any other investment that can be made in the developing world. So, investing in girls’ education not only empowers individuals but also has far-reaching benefits for communities and the world as a whole.
Edited from “Responding by Dale E Eng”