*** WOMEN AND DEVELOPMENT
Statement to the thirty-third session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women
Agenda Item 5, Priority themes: (b) Development: Women and education, eradication of illiteracy, employment, health and social services, including population issues and child care
29 March-7 April 1989
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In the last ten years, Baha'i International Community economic development projects on several continents have experienced success in areas of interest to this Commission: improving the material well-being of women, their families and their communities; winning the support of men for the principle of equality and the development of women; generating and sustaining grassroots participation; and educating women to a new sense of their own capacities and worth.
We would like to share briefly the principles and strategies that are proving effective in one such project, the Faizi Vocational Institute for Rural Women in India, in the hope that the experience of this project will assist the commission in its efforts to promote effective implementation of the Nairobi Forward-Looking Strategies and bring about lasting improvement in the situation of women.
The Faizi Vocational Institute for Rural Women promotes positive social change while teaching income-generating skills to women of the tribal areas of southwestern Madhya Pradesh state. Guided and supported by the national Baha'i council of India, and funded partially by the State of Madhya Pradesh and the Government of India, the Institute provides residential study followed by marketing assistance. At the institute, rural women can develop their intellectual capacities, strengthen their commitment to their families and communities, and learn useful crafts. Back in the village, follow-up support ensures that the benefits of the training are sustainable.
The basic concepts of education and social change that guide Baha'i development projects, the Faizi Institute included, are that the world is in transition to a more stable, cooperative, and mature condition; that development happens through both individual transformation and the creation of new social structures; and that participation and service, as expressions of the inherent nobility of human nature, constitute both goals and strategies for development.
The advancement of women is, in the Baha'i view, essential for social progress. The Faizi Institute, therefore, encourages women to develop the full range of their capacities -- economic, intellectual and moral. Women trainees are assisted to see themselves as equal in capacity to men, to discover their innate abilities, and to see new ways of contributing to the welfare of the community. As educated mothers, they also gain a new sense of the importance of their role in re-shaping tribal societies. This holistic approach to the education of rural women takes several forms.
Daily informal discussions among the women stimulate self-expression, sharpen thinking skills, and awaken an awareness of both problems and possibilities. These discussions may on one day address problems such as caste prejudice or alcoholism and on the next address the contributions women are making to world development, the establishment of peace, and scientific thought. Classes offer skills and information of benefit to the women and their families. Literate women trainees tutor the illiterate ones; health and hygiene information are included with discussions of the spiritual and moral education of children; and useful village technologies, such as a fuel-efficient, smokeless stove, are introduced.
In Baha'i communities, promoting the equality of the sexes is considered to be the task of both men and women, and one that can be achieved fully only if the goal is shared by everyone. Thus, one aspect of the Institute's programme is an effort to foster in male family members a desire for women's advancement. Baha'i institutions lend crucial support. Members of the national Baha'i council of India and other respected Baha'i consultants speak to the men of the village about the principle of equality, and they urge husbands to take pride in their wives' accomplishments. Moreover, they discuss with the men how they, as husbands and fathers, should vigorously defend women's rights, protect women's interests, and promote the development of women's capacities. Local Baha'i councils, composed of both women and men, also lend their support by helping select the trainees, monitoring the institute's programs, and offering suggestions for improvement.
Economic development and ethical development are viewed as complementary and highly integrated activities. Income-generating skills can best be learned and used in a context of human dignity and honor, of trustworthiness and mutual support; hence, these values are emphasized in the Institute's programme. The conscious integration of economic development with the promotion of civic values is especially critical in a crafts training programme, as economic ventures may be crippled by corruption or lack of trust. The Institute values the influence of personal morality and seeks consciously to cultivate it in both staff and trainees.
The director of the project is an impressive role model, especially since she, too, grew up in an Indian village. Having embraced the vision of a world of cooperation and equality, she set about bringing that vision to life. Her wisdom, determination and energy have been responsible for much of the success of the project. When the trainees see her example, they become aware of new possibilities within themselves. In the same way, the trainees, having gained a new sense of optimism and a consciousness of unity and human solidarity, become catalysts for change in their own villages.
Baha'is are convinced through faith and experience that spiritual principles are truly practical. By using consultation, the local council, the women trainees, and the staff work together to determine, often through trial and error, how to apply the relevant spiritual principles. Patience is indispensable. In the early days, the program faltered for lack of assistance in marketing. Consultation led to the addition of extensive follow-up with graduates in their villages. Now the Institute, often in conjunction with various private and state agencies, continues to assist the village women to acquire sewing and knitting machines, looms and other tools needed for their new activities; to secure contracts for production of finished products; and to receive raw materials for their work.
The consultative process itself promotes personal growth and collective solidarity. Women and men together learn to gather facts, to identify the relevant principles, to express ideas clearly, to listen respectfully to the opinions of others, and to arrive at a decision that everyone can support. Because this approach to consultation is at the core of any Baha'i project, the process is as important as the achievements; the changes in attitudes as important as the development of skills; the intellectual, spiritual and emotional growth of the trainees as important as the economic growth of the community.
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