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*** WOMEN AND DEVELOPMENT IN THE PACIFIC
Based on an oral statement presented at the Pacific NGOs Women's Regional Meeting to formulate strategies for women and development in the Pacific
Rarotonga, Cook Islands
19-22 March 1985
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A recent survey of Baha'i communities worldwide has revealed that not only have Baha'is made great strides in changing attitudes towards the advancement of women, but, to the degree that Baha'i principles have been implemented, they are using practical, workable methods for creating stability in our society.
Men as well as women are continuing to practice their understanding of the principle of the equality of the sexes -- a principle which is necessary to the realization of both development and peace in the world.
In the Baha'i view, any inferiority in women is due to the lack of education. When they become educated, women will develop the same capacity and ability as men. Spiritually, there is no difference between the sexes. Women in the Pacific are becoming aware of their right and responsibility to acquire education, are taking initiative in achieving this goal, and are increasingly encouraged to do so.
Pacific island women believe in the family as a basic unit of society, and this has led to many efforts to strengthen family relationships. Parents have responsibility toward their children, and children toward their parents, but beyond responsibility, the emphasis is on love, respect, courtesy, kindness and encouragement, without which families cannot prosper nor women advance. An awareness is also growing of the shared responsibility for child care.
Another precept which has strengthened both the family and the community is that of consultation and joint decision making. This practice within the Baha'i community provides for the free expression of all views, by men and women alike, followed by either a majority or a unanimous decision, which, having been made by the group, is then upheld by everyone. Women are encouraged to voice their own viewpoint, and the men in the community respect this. It is apparent also that the electoral system, with no nomination and a secret ballot, has had great effect on the activity of women. They have been elected in ever increasing numbers to serve on local and national administrative bodies.
The Pacific islands in the past have been ruled by force, and man has dominated woman by reason of his more forceful and aggressive qualities, both of body and mind. But the scales are already shifting; force is losing its weight, and mental alertness, intuition, and the spiritual qualities of love and service -- in which woman is strong -- are gaining ascendancy. Hence, 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 properly balanced.
"As long as women are prevented from attaining their highest possibilities, so long will men be unable to achieve the greatness which might be theirs." (`Abdu'l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 133)
As men and women work together, an educational process is put into motion that holds great promise for the future. Without the qualities, talents, and skills of both women and men, full economic and social development of the planet becomes impossible.
Pacific women recognize that both parents share in the overall responsibility of educating the children; however, the mother is given recognition as the first educator of humanity, and she must be carefully prepared for this task. Her education, in fact, is more necessary and important than that of man, for woman is the trainer of the child from its infancy. If she be defective and imperfect herself, the child will necessarily be deficient; therefore, imperfection of woman implies a condition of imperfection in all mankind, for it is the mother who rears, nurtures and guides the growth of the child.
The Baha'i community believes the promise that the entrance of women into all human departments must take place. No soul can stop it, and when women participate fully and equally in the affairs of the world, war will cease.
"The world of humanity is possessed of two wings -- the male and female. So long as these two wings are not equivalent in strength the bird will not fly. Until womankind reaches the same degree as man, until she enjoys the same arena of activity, extraordinary attainment for humanity will not be realized; humanity cannot wing its way to heights of real attainment." (`Abdu'l-Baha, Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 375)
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