Read: 1989 Nov 06, Strategies for Advancement of Women in Africa

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Statement to the Fourth Regional Conference on the Integration of Women in Development and on the Implementation of the Arusha Strategies for the Advancement of Women in Africa
Agenda Item 5: Implementation of the Arusha Strategies for the Advancement of Women in Africa Beyond the End of the United Nations Decade for Women: regional perspectives

Abuja, Nigeria
6-10 November 1989

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The Baha'i International Community regards the emancipation of women as one of the most important, though less acknowledged, prerequisites of world peace. Consequently, for over a century, Baha'i communities have been making a steady contribution in fostering the principle of equality. In addition, since 1970, when it gained consultative status with ECOSOC (United Nations Economic and Social Council), the Baha'i International Community has welcomed and consistently supported the efforts of the United Nations to improve the status of women throughout the world, participating fully in the activities of the UN Decade for Women, including representation at the world conferences as well as the regional preparatory meetings, such as those held by the Economic Commission for Africa.

Baha'is have also initiated a wide range of activities in Africa to enhance the status, involvement and responsibility of women in development. They choose development goals that advance the entire community. Consequently, Baha'i development efforts most often focus on education, primary health care and hygiene, and improving food production. All of these areas require the full participation of women. Since Baha'is consider education essential for human progress, Baha'i communities without schools often establish schools for children and literacy programs for adults, particularly women. At the end of 1987, there were 139 tutorial schools, 4 formal schools, and 25 preschools in Baha'i communities in Africa. The education of girls is given the highest priority. In Kenya, a set of illustrated books to educate mothers has been developed and translated into French and Swahili for widespread use on the continent. The Baha'i commitment to education often benefits the larger community. In Swaziland, the National Baha'i Child Education Committee developed a successful training program for Baha'i preschool teachers. The program was adapted for nationwide use, and it is now being offered by the government under the administration of the Baha'i committee.

Health education benefits everyone. Baha'is in Zambia, Chad, Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zaire, and Kenya have organized programs to train villagers to serve their communities as volunteer primary health educators, emphasizing child survival, growth and development, oral rehydration, immunization, diet, sanitation, water quality, and first aid. Most courses train 10 to 30 villagers at a time, with about a third being women. Most of the educators are recommended for the primary health training by the Baha'i council in each village. Often, the council appoints a health committee to assist the educator in her/his work. The Baha'i International Community is supporting these efforts by distributing to interested communities in Africa "Facts For Life,"the health education materials developed by WHO (World Health Organization), UNICEF (United Nations Children's Fund) and UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization).

Improving food production is a major concern of Baha'i communities in Africa. Women are urged in the Baha'i Writings to study "the industrial and agricultural sciences, seeking to assist mankind in that which is most needful." In many African nations, Baha'i women are taking the initiative to educate themselves and to work with other African women to improve their ability to provide for their families. Baha'i women of Zaire, including women of several Bayanda (Pygmy) tribes, have sponsored women's institutes for this purpose. In Cameroon, women are improving their skills at two regional women's centres. In Togo, regular conferences have brought women together for consultation on family, health and agricultural issues. In Kenya. at least 44 active local Baha'i women's groups and 6 regional women's committees have been involved in such projects as tree planting and water catchment.

Underlying all these activities in Africa are two main principles on which Baha'i social and economic development efforts rest, and from which Baha'i communities benefit directly: (a) Spiritual principles are the most beneficial and practical basis for community action, since a community's advancement ultimately depends on the pure motives and good deeds of its members. (b) Communities can unify and make fundamental changes in their social and economic conditions by practicing the art of consultation.

Applying the first principle means encouraging individuals to put into practice the ethical and moral teachings promulgated by religion. Thus, pure intentions, an attitude of loving service toward all people, and rectitude of conduct in dealing with others are important goals of Baha'i development. This is development in which every woman can participate, from which every family will benefit, and by which every community will be strengthened.

Applying the second principle means learning to work together by relying on the art of consultation. As practiced in Baha'i communities, consultation is a method of discussion whereby all members of a group are encouraged to give their views dispassionately and to listen to all other views in the same manner. Decisions are arrived at through unanimous or majority view. Often the result is something entirely new, grown from the seeds of the differing opinions. When, through this process, the group achieves unity of thought and purpose, the community is able to make fundamental changes in social and economic conditions. Because of its power to unite and develop communities, consultation is a valuable tool for promoting popular participation. In light of the forthcoming Conference on Popular Participation -- Putting People First -- to be held in Africa in 1990, we are pleased to share our experience in the use of this skill.

At the United Nations, the Baha'i International Community is presently serving as convenor for the Advocates for African Food Security: Lessening the Burden for Women. The Advocates is a unique umbrella organization of NGOs (non-governmental organizations), intergovernmental organizations, and UN agencies which formed in 1986 to aid in Africa's economic recovery and development. The Advocates seek to promote, particularly at national and international levels, greater awareness of the critical role played by women farmers in securing food for Africa and actions by governments and NGOs to support and assist them. The October 1989 Advocates Symposium, held at United Nations Headquarters in New York City and attended by over 200 people -- including many United Nations and government officials, addressed the issue of "Women's Participation: The Critical Element in Food Security."

The Baha'i International Community is convinced that broad participation combined with frank and open consultation are as useful internationally as they are locally. At the local level, the efforts of Baha'i communities to engage women and men, young and old, in loving and frank consultation about shared concerns could suggest a way to unify and empower African communities. At the international level, the initiative of the Advocates for African Food Security to link NGOs together with various sectors of the UN system on the basis of a shared concern could suggest a pattern of cooperation applicable to many issues. The Baha'i International Community and its Baha'i communities of Africa are committed to the full economic recovery and development of Africa. We welcome opportunities to work together in appropriate ways with other agencies to that end.

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