The Bahá’í Faith believes education will open all doors for girls and women, just like it did for Hillary Clinton.
DISCLAIMER: This and related posts discuss issues raised by the presidential campaign of Sen. Hillary Clinton, and the teachings of the Bahá’í Faith on those issues. In keeping with Bahá’í principles of non-partisanship, this post and others related to it are not intended to, and should not be interpreted as, endorsing or opposing any candidate, party or political program. The views in this and related posts are my own and have not been reviewed by any Bahá’í institution. For official information about the Bahá’í Faith, please visit the sites of the U.S. Bahá’í community and the International Bahá’í Community.
In her 2007 Mary Louise Smith Lecture at the Catt Center for Women and Politics at Iowa State University. U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton recalled the Harvard professor who told her, “We don’t need any more women at Harvard.” So it’s Yale that has the chance to put a law school alumna in the White House, if voters choose her. Harvard did wise up in the ensuing years, and now has a woman president, Drew Gilpin Faust.
In the years since Hillary Clinton entered Yale Law School as one of 27 women out of 235 students, a lot more doors have opened for women. The U.S. Congress has its first female speaker, Nancy Pelosi, (D-Calif.) Women have become governors, U.S. representatives, U.S. senators and cabinet ministers. The first door to open for all these women, which opened all the other doors, was education.
In her lecture, Sen. Clinton hailed, “The teachers who tell our daughters, ‘You are just as smart and capable as the boys, don’t you fail to live up to your potential.’ I think about my 6th grade teacher Mrs. King quoting from the Bible said not to hide your light under the bushel basket.”
The Bahá’í Faith believes in opening all those doors for girls and women through education, which is a fairly new idea:
” … if woman be fully educated and granted her rights, she will attain the capacity for wonderful accomplishments and prove herself the equal of man. She is the coadjutor of man, his complement and helpmeet. Both are human; both are endowed with potentialities of intelligence and embody the virtues of humanity. In all human powers and functions they are partners and coequals. At present in spheres of human activity woman does not manifest her natal prerogatives, owing to lack of education and opportunity. Without doubt education will establish her equality with men.”
Abdu’l-Bahá, the son of Bahá’u’lláh, the Prophet/Founder of the Bahá’í Faith, said those words around 1912. Women were still nine years away from the right to vote in the United States. Wesleyan College, in Macon, Ga., chartered in 1836, was the first college for women. A few others followed, such as Mount Holyoke in 1837, Vassar in 1861, and Smith in 1871, to name a few. Boston University was the first American university to grant a Ph.D. to a woman, Helen Magill, a classicist, in 1877. Wellesley, Hillary Clinton’s undergraduate alma mater, was founded in 1870 and admitted students in 1875. The future, at least in America, looks bright for women, who, as Sen. Clinton pointed out, are now the majority of students in college and in law school.
College in particular gives women the opportunity to form the relationships and attitudes that create access to power and influence. Women are increasingly gaining that power and influence.
“It has been objected by some that woman is not equally capable with man and that she is deficient by creation. This is pure imagination. [Italics added.] The difference in capability between man and woman is due entirely to opportunity and education. Heretofore, woman has been denied the right and privilege of equal development. If equal opportunity be granted her, there is no doubt she would be the peer of man.” Abdu’l-Bahá
But in the Bahá’í teachings, the importance of educating girls and women extends far beyond knowledge, skills and power. Their education is vital to the development of children and thus to the progress of every nation and the whole human race:
” … the education of woman 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 in woman implies a condition of imperfection in all mankind, for it is the mother who rears, nurtures and guides the growth of the child. This is not the function of the father.” Abdu’l-Bahá
The above statement does not imply that fathers have no role in raising and educating children. Abdu’l-Bahá meant that mothers’ nurturing relationship with children is vital to their moral and spiritual development, which is enhanced by mothers’ education. Bahá’ís consider this role so important that, if resources are limited, societies should give priority to educating girls and women. The Universal House of Justice, the highest governing authority in the Bahá’í Faith, wrote this in 1985:
” … No nation can achieve success unless education is accorded all its citizens. Lack of resources limits the ability of many nations to fulfill this necessity, imposing a certain ordering of priorities. The decision-making agencies involved would do well to consider giving first priority to the education of women and girls, since it is through educated mothers that the benefits of knowledge can be most effectively and rapidly diffused throughout society.”
So we can see that the Bahá’í writings declare that equal education for women is indispensable to the material, social, cultural and spiritual progress of every nation and the world. But it goes further. Equal education and the equality it brings to women will not merely give them equal power in the same world, it will change the world:
“When all mankind shall receive the same opportunity of education and the equality of men and women be realized, the foundations of war will be utterly destroyed. Without equality this will be impossible because all differences and distinction are conducive to discord and strife. Equality between men and women is conducive to the abolition of warfare for the reason that women will never be willing to sanction it.” Abdu’l-Bahá
If women leading the world to peace seems far-fetched at the present moment, that is because women haven’t yet won equality in much of the world. America is further along than other nations. We’re giving a woman a fair shot at becoming President, although we’re behind other nations. But it it will take more than electing a woman here and there, as important as those victories are. It will take a village, to borrow Sen. Clinton’s words — it will take every village, town, city, state and nation educating its girls and women. It is only a matter of time. How much time is up to every one who hears the message in the words quoted above.
Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, Bahá’í Publishing Trust, Wilmette, Ill. 2008 Edition.
Women: Extracts from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, Abdu’l-Bahá, Shoghi Effendi and the Universal House of Justice. Bahá’í Canada Publications
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