The Bahá’í International Community was particularly pleased that the girl child was identified in the Beijing Platform for Action as a critical area of concern. Bahá’ís have long been active in efforts to address the developmental needs of girls so that they will be able, as women, to contribute fully to the advancement of civilization. Indeed, the Bahá’í Writings promise that
“when women participate fully and equally in the affairs of the world, when they enter confidently and capably the great arena of laws and politics war will cease.” – Abdu’l-Baha
It is, therefore, highly appropriate that the 42nd Commission on the Status of Women should focus attention on the challenge of creating an enabling environment for empowering girls.
As the Commission consults about actions that might be taken by governments and NGOs to create an environment that will enable girls to develop their capacities and will empower them to participate fully in the affairs of the world, we offer the following suggestions for consideration.
- The girl child’s first and most influential environment is her family. She learns from her immediate and extended family who she is and how she fits into the world. If the family environment is to empower girls, sons and daughters must be equally valued and loved, the rights of all family members must be safeguarded, children must be taught to respect themselves and others, and the unity and solidarity for the family must be nurtured.
- Girls must be educated. Writings assert that
“Women’s lack of progress and proficiency, has been due to her need of equal education and opportunity. Had she been allowed this equality, there is no doubt she would be the counterpart of man in ability and capacity.” – Abdu’l-Baha
So important is the education of girls, that if a lack of resources forces a choice, parents are advised to consider giving first priority to the education of their daughters. Girls must be prepared not only to participate fully in the affairs of the world, but also to fulfill their responsibilities as mothers and first educators of the next generation.
- Boys must be raised with an understanding of the equality of women and men man endeavor. Failure to educate boys for equality will have devastating consequences not only for girls, but also for society as a whole. As long as the oppression of women is tolerated, men will continue to harbor harmful attitudes and habits that they carry from the family to the work place, to political life and ultimately to international relations. Because the attitude of superiority, fostered in men by erroneous beliefs, is often unconscious, programs should be instituted to sensitize males, both boys and men, to the ways in which they may unknowingly discourage girls and block their progress.
“In brief, the assumption of superiority by man will continue to be depressing to the ambition of woman, as if her attainment to equality was creationally impossible; woman’s aspiration toward advancement will be checked by it, and she will gradually become hopeless. On the contrary, we must declare that her capacity is equal, even greater than man’s. This will inspire her with hope and ambition, and her susceptibilities for advancement will continually increase. She must not be told and taught that she is weaker and inferior in capacity and qualification. If a pupil is told that his intelligence is less than his fellow pupils, it is a very great drawback and handicap to his progress. He must be encouraged to advance by the statement, ‘You are most capable, and if you endeavor, you will attain the highest degree.’” – Abdu’l-Baha
- Likewise, law enforcement officials, judges and other custodians of society who are responsible for the rights of women and children will need to be sensitized to the ways in which women are oppressed and deprived of opportunity.
- The negative influence of the media has been widely discussed. Its positive potential, however, has gone largely untapped. The media should be reminded of their responsibility to encourage positive social values in boys and girls and to improve the ways in which women are portrayed. They could promote the ideas that girls are deserving of equal rights, that society’s progress depends on the full participation of women, that girls are as capable as boys, and that women are a powerful force for peace.
- No attempt to set human affairs aright can ignore religion. Although most religions have, in their early years, improved the lot of women, it must be acknowledged that religion has also been used as an excuse to oppress them. Religious leaders and people of faith everywhere have a special responsibility to reaffirm those eternal spiritual principles that unite the hearts and release the capacities of every soul. For example, the admonition that we should treat others as we ourselves would wish to be treated can be found in the teachings of every religion. Were this principle to guide all interactions, including those between men and women, girls and boys, many harmful traditional beliefs and practices would gradually be relinquished.
- Governments can, through their policies, support the efforts of individuals, families, teachers, law enforcement officials, the media, and religious leaders to create an environment that encourages women and girls to develop their capacities and to step forward into new arenas of service.
In conclusion, the Bahá’í International Community stands ready to do its share to help create an enabling environment for empowering girls. For, in the Bahá’í view,
“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 the equal to the world of men… can success and prosperity be attained as they ought to be.”
Bahá’í International Community, “Empowering Girls”, a statement to the 42nd session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, Item 3 of the provisional agenda, “Priority Theme: Girl child—Creating an enabling environment for empowering girls”, held in New York, USA, 2- 13 March 1998.