Read: 1995 Aug 26, Protection of Women's Rights

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Baha'i International Community statement to the World Conference on Human Rights
Agenda 11: Consideration of contemporary trends in and new challenges to the full realization of all human rights of women and men, including those of persons belonging to vulnerable groups

Vienna, Austria
14 - 25 June 1993

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"There must be an equality of rights between men and women... For the world of humanity possesses two wings: man and woman. If one wing remains incapable and defective, it will restrict the power of the other, and full flight will be impossible." `Abdu'l-Baha

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The Baha'i International Community welcomes the opportunity to speak to agenda item 11 at this historic World Conference. We hope that comprehensive consideration of the human rights of women will continue at all future gatherings for the advancement of human rights, and we support the resolution adopted by the Commission on the Status of Women at its 1993 session urging that women's rights and concerns be considered under all substantive items of the provisional agenda for the World Conference on Human Rights.

The persistence and growth of violence directed against women, both personal and institutional, is largely attributable to the traditional exclusion of women from processes of development and decision-making. A profound adjustment in humanity's collective outlook is needed, guided by the consideration of universal values and spiritual principles. Legislation is needed which lends practical expression to the equality of the sexes by dealing with the particular injustices which women face.

Domestic violence is a fact of life for many women throughout the world, regardless of race, class, or educational background. In many societies traditional beliefs that women are a burden make them easy targets of anger. In other situations, men's frustration is vented on women and children when economies shrink and collapse. In all parts of the world, violence against women persists because it goes unpunished.

Beliefs and practices that contribute to the oppression of women must be reexamined in the light of justice. When properly understood, the principle of the fundamental equality of men and women will eventually transform all social relations, allowing each person to develop his or her unique gifts and talents. The utilization of everyone's strengths will foster the maturation of society. As the principle of equality gains acceptance, the challenge of transmitting it to the next generation must be undertaken by parents, schools, governments and NGOs.

The family is the basic unit of society: all of its members should be educated according to spiritual principles. The rights of all need to be safeguarded and children trained to respect themselves and others. According to the Baha'i writings, "The integrity of the family bond must be constantly considered, and the rights of the individual members must not be transgressed."

Education in spiritual values is necessary not only to protect women but, indeed, to foster respect for all people, so that human honor and dignity may be preserved and a global ethos may evolve in which all human rights are upheld. The Baha'i International Community is convinced that nothing short of an infusion of spiritual values can effect the transformation of individuals and institutions that will ensure respect for the human rights of all people.

The Baha'i community, through local and national administrative councils in more than 165 countries, is working in a variety of ways to change the status and perception of women. One noteworthy example is a collaboration between UNIFEM and Baha'i communities in Bolivia, Cameroon, and Malaysia aimed at improving the status of rural women by using traditional media, such as music and dance, to stimulate village-wide discussion of women's roles.* Our community's experiences and the Teachings of Baha'u'llah make us confident that our world is destined to move beyond the present condition to one in which all members of the human family enjoy equally the full realization of their human rights.

[This essay was published in The Greatness Which Might Be Theirs, a compilation of reflections on the Agenda and Platform for Action for the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women: Equality, Development and Peace, published for distribution at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing and the parallel NGO Forum in Huairou, China, August/September 1995.]

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