Promoting gender equality will advance world peace
By KAMBIZ RAFRAF
More and more people are recognizing that the problems that women face must lie at the heart of the global agenda. Efforts to improve women's lives are often the most immediate and vital means of improving entire societies.
As we observe National Women's History Month, we ought to remember that protecting women from violence must remain a priority worldwide. Equally important is their role as leaders in building peace. We must ensure that women can participate as much as men in peace negotiations and decision making.
The history of humankind is filled with examples of women's oppression. They have been treated as property, confined to a narrow sphere of activity (the home) and deprived of a voice in public life. They have been denied educational opportunities and submitted to the further indignity of being forced to support and maintain the patriarchal systems that treat them as second-class beings, as sub-humans, embodiments of sin or "soulless" entities.
In the 21st century, violence still affects the lives of millions of women worldwide, in all socio-economic and educational classes. It cuts across cultural and religious barriers, impeding women's right to participate fully in society. Violence against women takes a dismaying variety of forms, from domestic abuse and rape to child marriages, dowry-related violence and female circumcision (genital mutilation). All violate the most fundamental human rights.
In a statement to the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in September 1995, U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali called violence against women a universal problem that must be universally condemned. But he said that the problem continues to grow. In the Platform for Action, the core document of the Beijing conference, all participating governments declared, "Violence against women constitutes a violation of basic human rights and is an obstacle to the achievement of the objectives of equality, development and peace."
Women make up more than half of the human race. Civilization has suffered for more than 4,000 years under the aggressive oppression of male dominance and authoritarian patriarchy. Some of the great promoters of peace, such as 'Abdu'l-Bahá and Gandhi, have seen hope for a peaceful world in the softening of masculine force by the feminine qualities of love, service, intuition and moral power. "If nonviolence is the law of our being," Gandhi said, "the future is with women."
We need to strive for a greater balance in society between feminine and masculine influences.
An important aspect of world peace and world unity will be the attainment of a greater balance between feminine and masculine influences on society. In fact, it will be largely as a result of this greater feminine influence that war will be eliminated and permanent peace attained.
A real evidence of gender equality will be women's service and efficiency in the establishment of universal peace.
More than 90 years ago, 'Abdu'l-Bahá, son of Bahá'u'lláh, the prophet-founder of the Bahá'í Faith, said: "In past ages, humanity has been defective and inefficient because it has been incomplete. War and its ravages have blighted the world; the education of woman will be a mighty step toward its abolition and ending, for she will use her whole influence against war. Woman rears the child and educates the youth to maturity. She will refuse to give her sons for sacrifice upon the field of battle. In truth, she will be the greatest factor in establishing universal peace and international arbitration. Assuredly, woman will abolish warfare among mankind."
Last year on International Women's Day (March 8), U.N. Deputy Secretary General Louise Fréchette said: "No peace strategy is likely to be durable without the involvement of women. If they are given an opportunity to make their voice heard, if they can bring their own perspective to the table, the chances for lasting peace and reconciliation will improve immeasurably."
On Oct. 31, 2000, the U.N. Security Council unanimously passed a resolution titled Women, Peace and Security, urging member states "to ensure increased representation of women at all decision-making levels in national, regional and international institutions and mechanisms for the prevention, management, and resolution of conflict."
Traditionally, religion has been one of the most powerful sources of both vision and values and a primary agent of socialization. Every religion has evoked a new vision for society, articulated values consonant with that vision, and inspired both personal and institutional transformation.
Because religion is such a potentially powerful force for progress, religious leaders and people of faith everywhere are urged to step forward to promote those eternal, unifying principles or spiritual values that can inspire in both individuals and governments the will to implement the principle of gender equality and advance the cause of peace.
Kambiz Rafraf is chairman of the Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Dallas.
©Copyright 2002, The Dallas Morning News