Reflections from a Baha’i | Peace hinges on equality of men and women



The emancipation of women and the education of girls has been a priority of the Baha’i community since its inception in Persia (Iran) in 1844. One of the faith’s disciples was a woman named Tahirih. Tahirih was one of the few educated women in Iran at the time. Her father was the headmaster of a seminary that contained a large library. Thus, Tahirih had access to an education rich in prose and theology.

Yet, as a student, Tahirih was instructed to stay behind a curtain and to remain silent. As time passed she began to interject from behind the curtain. Eventually, by the power of her speech and intellect, Tahirih became a renowned figure in Persia. However, when she accepted the Baha’i movement and became one of its leading proponents, cries of heresy rang out against her.

Tahirih’s most alarming act was yet to come. The event occurred during the Conference of Badasht in 1848. When it was her time to speak, Tahirih did not step behind a curtain nor did she allow her words to be muffled behind a cloth. Tahirih spoke out unveiled before her wide-eyed, dumbfounded listeners.

Tahirih’s actions were a clarion call for equality, liberation and change. They were largely perceived, however, as a threat to social order. At the time it was highly improper to see the face of a woman in public. Women were to keep their faces and bodies entirely covered.

For Tahirih, a series of house arrests and interrogations were soon to follow. Then, after several refusals to recant her faith, and by order of the Shah, Tahirih was executed. She was strangled by her own veil. Following Tahirih’s death Oct. 13, 1852, a number schools for girls emerged in Iran.
The emancipation of women is necessary to achieve greater justice in the world. It is also necessary to release our human capacity for peace. “The Promise of World Peace,” a Baha’i statement about the steps needed for peace, explains: “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 workplace, 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 endeavor will the moral and psychological climate be created in which international peace can emerge.”

In past ages, men dominated over women by reason of his more forceful and aggressive qualities of body and mind. But the balance is shifting. The qualities of mental alertness, of love and service in which women are strong, are gaining in importance. “Hence,” according to Baha’i teachings, “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.” A future of peace hinges on that balance.

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