DISCLAIMER: This post, and more to follow, discusses 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.
Much has already been said about how historic the 2008 presidential campaign is. Barring unforeseen events, the Democratic Party will either nominate U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, a woman, or U.S. Sen. Barack Obama,an African American. I have already posted about some of the issues raised by Obama’s campaign (see links below). Today, I’d like to talk about Sen. Clinton and the issues raised by her campaign.
In her Mary Louise Smith Lecture at the Catt Center for Women and Politics at Iowa State University, Clinton said:
There has never been a better time to be a woman in America. It’s almost hard to explain to young women today how much things have changed — even just during the course of my lifetime.
She went on to say that as a girl, she wrote a letter to NASA expressing interest in becoming astronaut, and received an answer that those positions weren’t open to women. In 2007, Clinton noted, astronaut Peggy Whiton was appointed first female commander of the International Space Center.
She pointed to several other signs of progress:
- Women are the majority of students in law schools
- Women are the majority of students in college
- Women were the majority of voters in 2004
- The U.S. House of Representatives has a woman speaker (Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.)
- Harvard University has a female president
I’ll add a global perspective: America is behind the rest of the world in electing women to the top political post. Some of the countries ahead of us are: The United Kingdom (Margaret Thatcher), Israel (Golda Meir), India (Indira Gandhi), Pakistan (Benazir Bhutto), Germany (Angela Merkle), Liberia (Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf) and Chile (Michelle Bachelet). New Zealand is the first independent nation to grant women the right to vote, in 1893, 27 years before America got around to it (although women had the right in some territories before statehood). New Zealand also has the distinction of having elected two female Prime Ministers: Jenny Shipley and Helen Clark, the current leader. So it’s about time for America. As to whether Hillary Clinton in particular is the right woman, I leave that to individual choice.
The ascent of women to the highest political offices is in full agreement with the principles of the Bahá’í Faith:
“Know thou, O handmaid*, that in the sight of Bahá, women are accounted the same as men, and God hath created all humankind in His own image, and after His own likeness. That is, men and women alike are the revealers of His names and attributes, and from the spiritual viewpoint there is no difference between them. Whosoever draweth near to God, that one is the most favoured, whether man or woman. How many a handmaid, ardent and devoted, hath, within the sheltering shade of Bahá, proved superior to the men, and surpassed the famous of the earth.” – Abdu’l-Bahá (son of Bahá’u’lláh)
(* – In the Bahá’í writings, men are often called “servants” and women “handmaidens” or “handmaids.” “Bahá” is short for Bahá’u’lláh, the Prophet/Founder of the Faith, or the Faith itself.)
The election of Hillary Clinton or any other woman as President of the United States would fulfill predictions made in the Bahá’í Writings:
“In this Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh, the women go neck and neck with the men. In no movement are they to be left behind. Their rights with men are equal in degree. They will enter all the administrative branches of politics. They will attain in all such a degree as will be considered the very highest station of the world of humanity and will take part in all affairs. Rest ye assured. Do ye not look upon the present condition [around 1911]; in the not far distant future the world of women will become all-refulgent and glorious. For His Holiness Bahá’u’lláh hath willed it so! At the time of elections the right to vote is the inalienable right of women, and the entrance into all human departments is an irrefutable and incontrovertible question. No soul can retard or prevent it.” Abdu’l-Bahá
But the movement of women into power and politics will have even greater consequences — Peace on Earth. In her lecture, Sen. Clinton recalled meeting an Irish Catholic woman who had lost many family members, including her son, in the long-running “troubles” between Protestants and Catholics, Republicans and Loyalists, but who had founded a group of Protestant and Catholic women who came together “to talk about their needs and their fears over cups of tea.”
“I sat down with those women one day and I listened as they talked about how they had discovered that they all worried when their husbands and sons left their homes, and they were all relieved when they returned safely. And despite their differences, they wanted a better future for their country and their children. It was these women — and others like them — sitting around at kitchen tables, sharing pots of tea, who helped chart the path to peace.”
“The path to peace” is one of the fundamental purposes of the Bahá’í Faith. Baha’u’llah wrote: “These fruitless strifes, these ruinous wars shall pass away, and the Most Great Peace Shall Come.” Gender equality is, in the Bahá’í teachings, a prerequisite for peace.
“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 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
Readers will probably point out some obvious problems: Hillary Clinton voted to authorize the use of force in Iraq and makes a point in her campaign of being better qualified to be Commander in Chief than Sen. Obama. Some of the women leaders mentioned above led their nations into wars. There are plenty of military wives and mothers who proudly send husbands and sons off to war.
Yes, but we are still in the world dominated by masculine principles, by which even female national leaders have to abide. It is difficult to imagine a world with a better balance of masculine and feminine principles, but Bahá’ís pray to bring about that world and we strive to build it. Abdu’l-Bahá gave us a hint of that future world:
“The world in the past has been ruled by force, and man has dominated over woman by reason of his more forceful and aggressive qualities both of body and mind. But the balance is 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 in which the masculine and feminine elements of civilization will be more evenly balanced.” Abdu’l-Bahá
Yes, we do believe there are real differences between men and women, and we believe there are masculine and feminine qualities — although they exist in both genders. But we believe in equality of men and women, as decreed by God. There’s more to be said, so keep reading. In the meantime, your assignment is to imagine the coming age “in which the masculine and feminine elements of civilization will be more evenly balanced.” What do you think it will look like?
OTHER POSTS OF INTEREST:
The Iranian Woman Who Made Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Possible“
Obama Stirs Multiracial Dialogue
A More Pefect Union Through Race Unity
A More Perfect Union Through Race Unity: Cure the Cancer!
A More Perect Union Through Race Unity: Multiracial Possibilities
Obama’s High Ground on Public Dialogue