Equality in Political Participation And Decision-Making
January 28, 2002
Banjul, the Gambia
The emancipation of women,the achievement of full equality between the sexes, is one of the most important, though less-acknowledged prerequisites of peace.
The denial of such equality perpetrates an injustice against one-half of the world's population and promotes in men harmful attitudes and habits that are carried from the family to the work place, to political life, and ultimately to international relations.
There are no grounds, moral, practical or biological upon which such denial can be justified. Only as women are welcomed into full partnership in all fields of human endeavour will the moral and psychological climate be created in which international peace can emerge.
The goal of full participation by women is being pursued within baha'i communities around the world in several ways, by teaching equality of the sexes as a fundamental spiritual principle; by advocating the education of women and girls; and by employing a decision-making process that welcomes women. Baha'is believe that true equity will be realized only when women are accorded full opportunity to develop their capacities and serve humanity. Indeed, where choice must be made, baha'is are urged to give priority to the education of women and girls.
Gradually, as a result of these complementary efforts, Baha'i communities, large and small, are successfully integrating women into both family and community decision-making. Much of this success is due, we believe, to a unique approach to decision-making, elements of which might be of interest to the commission in its own important efforts to promote participation of women. We are pleased to have this opportunity therefore to share our experience.
Decision-making in the Baha'i community is a collective consultative process based on universal spiritual principles and conducted according to rules of cooperation of diversity. Because it involves men and women as equals, consultation builds partnership. Anyone for instance, who joins a Baha'i community whether in a modern city or a remote village, has the opportunity to participate in community affairs. Both women and men are eligible to vote for and serve on the local governing council and all members of the community, including youth and children, take part in community consultations. The sharing of views and ideas fosters the consultative process and feeds into the governing council's deliberations.
The Baha'i process of decision-making derives directly from the teachings of the Baha'i faith. It aims at seeking the truth through a method that relies on an appreciation of the richness of human diversity and a desire for unity. Because it is based on universal spiritual principles, it is adaptable to any culture. Over 18,000 local Baha'i communities in 160 countries with members from over 2,000 ethnic backgrounds are now using consultation to guide their affairs.
Baha'is regard human diversity as an asset. In decision-making, for instance a diverse group drawing on the wisdom, knowledge, and experience of each person can solve complex problems more effectively than any single individual. Indeed, Baha'i consultation seeks to exploit the richness of diversity to spark creativity in planning and problem solving. By using diversity to meet shared goals, the consultative process also fosters cooperation and the spirit of service thus discouraging even subtle forms of intimidation. The goal of consultation is not to win, but to find the truth. Therefore, opinions are to be offered humbly, not as definitive and final but as contributions to the collective effort. Participants are asked to consider carefully the views not clinging to their own, and accept the best solution that emerges. The result is the release of creativity and the maturation of individuals and the community.
To prepare for a time when legal discrimination against women is eliminated and the social and economic support structures are erected, which will allow women a voice in public policy, women must not only be given experience in consultation so that they will be ready to step forward and speak their minds and hearts, but they must also be given education to develop the full range of their capacities.
©Copyright 2002, The Independent (Banjul, Gambia)