Bahá'í Faith and gender equality

Bahá'í Faith and gender equality

One of the main teachings of the Bahá'í Faith is gender equality; that men and women are equal. The equality of the sexes is seen by Bahá'ís as a spiritual and moral standard that is essential for the unification of the planet and the unfoldment of world order, and in the importance of implementing the principle in individual, family, and community life. Although men and women are equal in the Bahá'í Faith, this equality does not imply sameness. Men and women are seen as having different strengths and abilities that enable them to better fill different roles. Thus there are certain teachings that in some cases give preference to one of the genders (see below).


piritual nature of women

The Bahá'í Faith's teaching is that men and women are, and always have been, equal in the sight of God. Bahá'u'lláh, the founder of the Bahá'í Faith, has written:

:"In this Day the Hand of divine grace hath removed all distinctions. The servants of God and His handmaidens are regarded on the same plane. Blessed is the servant who hath attained unto that which God hath decreed, and likewise the leaf moving in accordance with the breezes of His will."::(Bahá'u'lláh, from a Tablet - translated from the Persian and Arabic.) []

Bahá'u'lláh, further writes that spiritual station of each person depends on their devotion to God, and that women who have a higher devotion excel over men:

:"By My Life! The names of handmaidens who are devoted to God are written and set down by the Pen of the Most High in the Crimson Book. They excel over men in the sight of God. How numerous are the heroes and knights in the field who are bereft of the True One and have no share in His recognition, but thou hast attained and received thy fill."::(Bahá'u'lláh, from a Tablet- translated from the Persian.) []

`Abdu'l-Bahá, Bahá'u'lláh's son and successor, has also written on the spiritual nature of women and stated that it is equal to that of men, and reiterated that each person's spiritual station depends on their devotion to God:

:"The sixth principle or teaching of Bahá'u'lláh concerns the equality of man and woman. He has declared that in the estimation of God there is no distinction of sex. The one whose heart is most pure, whose deeds and service in the Cause of God are greater and nobler, is most acceptable before the divine threshold -- whether male or female."::(`Abdu'l-Bahá, "The Promulgation of Universal Peace", p. 107.) []

:"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 nearer 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, "Selections from the Writings of `Abdu’l-Bahá", pp. 79–80.) []

:"Divine Justice demands that the rights of both sexes should be equally respected since neither is superior to the other in the eyes of Heaven. Dignity before God depends, not on sex, but on purity and luminosity of heart. Human virtues belong equally to all!"::(`Abdu’l-Bahá, "Paris Talks", p. 162.) []

Women's role in the advancement of humanity

The Bahá'í writings state that until women are provided equal status to men, humanity cannot advance or progress. `Abdu’l-Bahá in a series of analogies has compared men and women to the two wings of a bird and the two hands of a human body and stated that both need to be strong to allow for advancement:

:"And among the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh is the equality of women and men. The world of humanity has two wings—one is women and the other men. Not until both wings are equally developed can the bird fly. Should one wing remain weak, flight is impossible. Not until the world of women becomes equal to the world of men in the acquisition of virtues and perfections, can success and prosperity be attained as they ought to be."::(`Abdu’l-Bahá, "Selections from the Writings of `Abdu’l-Bahá", sec. 227, p. 302.) []

:"The world of humanity consists of two parts: male and female. Each is the complement of the other. Therefore, if one is defective, the other will necessarily be incomplete, and perfection cannot be attained. There is a right hand and a left hand in the human body, functionally equal in service and administration. If either proves defective, the defect will naturally extend to the other by involving the completeness of the whole; for accomplishment is not normal unless both are perfect. If we say one hand is deficient, we prove the inability and incapacity of the other; for single-handed there is no full accomplishment. Just as physical accomplishment is complete with two hands, so man and woman, the two parts of the social body, must be perfect. It is not natural that either should remain undeveloped; and until both are perfected, the happiness of the human world will not be realized."::(`Abdu’l-Bahá, "The Promulgation of Universal Peace", p. 134.) []

Equality a prerequisite to peace

Bahá'u'lláh writes that gender equality is a prerequisite to peace. `Abdu'l-Bahá further writes that the reason why there are so many wars is that there is not many women in positions of power and once women participate fully and equally in world affairs that wars will cease.

:"War and its ravages have blighted the world; the education of woman will be a mighty step toward its abolition and ending, for she will use her whole influence against war. Woman rears the child and educates the youth to maturity. She will refuse to give her sons for sacrifice upon the field of battle. In truth, she will be the greatest factor in establishing universal peace and international arbitration. Assuredly, woman will abolish warfare among mankind."::(`Abdu'l-Bahá, "The Promulgation of Universal Peace", p. 108.) []

Moojan Momen, in a research paper, writes that the goal of achieving equality of women and men in the Bahá'í Faith does not amount to bringing women into power in masculine roles, but instead a more radical change to the very nature of society, to make feminine qualities more valued.cite journal | last = Momen | first = Moojan | title = In all the Ways that Matter, Women Don't Count | journal = BAHÁ'Í STUDIES REVIEW | volume = 4.1 | date = 1994 | url = | accessdate = 2008-01-28 | format = abstract]

Education of women

The education of women is seen as of utmost importance in the Bahá'í teachings because education allows women to have the same opportunity as men. The education of women is also seen as of paramount importance since the Bahá'í writings state that women are the first educator of children.

:"There must be an equality of rights between men and women. Women shall receive an equal privilege of education. This will enable them to qualify and progress in all degrees of occupation and accomplishment."::(`Abdu'l-Bahá, "Promulgation of Universal Peace", p. 318.) []

While both parents share in the responsibility of educating children, since women are the first educators of children, if a family does not have the financial resources to educate all of their children, girls should be given preference over boys.

:"Furthermore the education of women 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.::('Abdu'l-Bahá, "Promulgation of Universal Peace", p. 133.) []

Women's relationship to men

The Bahá'í teachings state that until men recognize the equality of women, they themselves will not be able to achieve their own high station:

:"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-Bahá, "Paris Talks", p. 133.) []

:"Woman must endeavour then to attain greater perfection, to be man's equal in every respect, to make progress in all in which she has been backward, so that man will be compelled to acknowledge her equality of capacity and attainment."::(`Abdu'l-Bahá, "Paris Talks", p. 162.) []

Historical reasons why women have been seen as lower than men

The Bahá'í writings state that women have in all history been equal to men, and the reason why women in history have been seen as lower to men was because they were not given equal education and opportunity.

:"Woman's lack of progress and proficiency has been due to her need of equal education and opportunity. Had she been allowed this equality there is no doubt she would be the counterpart of man in ability and capacity. The happiness of mankind will be realized when women and men coordinate and advance equally, for each is the complement and helpmeet of the other."::(`Abdu'l-Bahá, "Bahá'í World Faith" - `Abdu'l-Bahá Section, p. 241.) []

:"That all this is ignorance and error; nay, rather, it is well established that mankind and womankind as parts of composite humanity are coequal and that no difference in estimate is allowable, for all are human. The conditions in past centuries were due to woman's lack of opportunity. She was denied the right and privilege of education and left in her undeveloped state. Naturally, she could not and did not advance. In reality, God has created all mankind, and in the estimation of God there is no distinction as to male and female. The one whose heart is pure is acceptable in His sight, be that one man or woman. God does not inquire, "Art thou woman or art thou man?" He judges human actions. If these are acceptable in the threshold of the Glorious One, man and woman will be equally recognized and rewarded."::(`Abdu'l-Bahá, "The Promulgation of Universal Peace", p. 133.) []

Historical women figures in Bahá'í history

There have been a large number of women heroines who are celebrated in the history of the Bahá'í Faith including Táhirih, Navváb, Queen Marie, Bahíyyih Khánum, Martha Root, Lidia Zamenhof, and many others.


Táhirih was an influential poet and theologian of the Bábí faith, the predecessor to the Bahá'í Faith, and often mentioned in Bahá'í literature as an example of courage in the struggle for women's rights. She is perhaps best remembered for appearing in public without her veil in the course of the Badasht conference where the nature of the Bábí faith as separate from Islam was declared. One of her most notable quotes is her deathbed utterance in 1852, "You can kill me as soon as you like, but you cannot stop the emancipation of women." It is believed that Táhirih was the first woman in the world to proclaim the equality of men and women. The feminist Seneca Falls Convention, held in New York state in 1848, coincided exactly with the Conference of Badasht, a gathering of prominent Bábís at which Táhirih removed her veil to symbolize the equality of men and women.

Bahíyyih Khánum

:Main article: "Bahíyyih Khánum

Bahíyyih Khánum was Bahá'u'lláh's daughter. After the death of `Abdu'l-Bahá, Shoghi Effendi, was named the head of the Baha'i Faith, but he was distraught with the passing of his grandfather so went into meditation for a period of time. During that time Bahíyyih Khánum assumed the role of acting leader of the Baha'i Faith, which was a rare position for a woman to be in at that time.

ocial initiatives

The Bahá'í Faith's emphasis is on male-female equality and thus the Bahá'í Faith actively promotes a number of programs with the aim of greater access for women to health, education, child-care, and business opportunities. For example in India and South America. Bahá'ís teach that a spiritual solution is ultimately necessary for problems like these to find lasting solutions. The faith aims to educate both men and women in this regard. Bahá'ís have started social initiatives aimed at improving the lives of women in a practical way, with examples including Third World health or literacy projects. Bahá'ís also state that the concept of the education of girls which is now widely accepted in Socio-Economic Development originated in the Bahá'ís teachings.

Two examples will illustrate the action Bahá'ís undertake and support:The Bahá'í-inspired Tahirih Justice Center and the Barli Vocational Institute for Rural Women in Indore in India. Layli Miller-Muro founded the Tahirih Justice Center in 1997 following a well-publicized asylum case in which she was involved as a student attorney.Fauziya Kassindja, "Do They Hear You When You Cry." p. 171. The case name became "Matter of Kasinga", because Fauziya did not know if it was proper to correct the immigration official who misspelled her last name on her entry into the United States.] Layli later co-wrote a book with the client she had aided and used her portion of the proceeds for the initial funding of Tahirih. As of 2003, the organization had assisted more than 4,000 women and children fleeing from a wide variety of abuses. [] "Tahirih Justice Center", 3rd Annual Report, Retrieved July 10, 2006] The Barli Vocational Institute for Rural Women was founded in 1985 in India and offers a six-month program for tribal women at its facilities in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh.cite web | url = | title = Barli Development Institute for Rural Women | accessdate = 2006-09-15 | publisher = | date = 2003-08-11 |] Through June 1996, a total of 769 rural tribal women have been trained at the Institute;cite web | url = | title = Barli Vocational Institute for Rural Women | author = Barli Vocational Institute for Rural Women | accessdate = 2006-09-15 | date = 2002-02-17] the women came from 119 villages, and after returning home to their cities or villages 45% of them established small businesses, 62% are functionally literate or semi-literate (which has motivated people to send their children to school), 42% have started growing vegetables, 97% are using safe drinking water, all the former trainees and many of their male relatives have given up drinking alcohol, and caste prejudices have been eliminated.


The Bahá'í Faith gave women the right to vote long before the first country, New Zealand, gave the same right to its polity in 1893.Fact|date=February 2007

Teachings giving preference to women or men

While the Bahá'í teachings assert the full spiritual and social equality of women to men, there are some provisions of the "Kitáb-i-Aqdas" which favour either men or women. These provisions, Bahá'ís state, do not constitute evidence of the superiority of one gender over the other, but that of different roles, both biologically and socially, that each gender has in society.

The laws between a man and a woman apply "mutatis mutandis" as between a woman and a man unless the context should make this impossible. For example, the prohibition of a man to marry his stepmother has been clarified to equally apply to a woman marrying her stepfather. [|mutandis&action=highlight#gr1]

Teachings giving preference to women

*Education - It is a parent's obligation to make a daughter's education a higher priority than a son's education when resources do not permit education for all, because women are the educators of the next generation (see above).

*Dowry - The husband must provide a dowry to his bride. Furthermore, if the husband and wife choose to divorce, the husband must support his wife until the divorce is complete.

*Prayer and Fasting - Menstruating women are exempt from saying the obligatory prayer and from the fast.

*Pilgrimage - Women do not have the obligation of making pilgrimage, although they can if they choose. Men who are financially able to do so are obliged to make the pilgrimage.

Teachings giving preference to men

*The Universal House of Justice - Membership on the Universal House of Justice, the supreme governing body of the Bahá'í Faith, is made up exclusively of nine male members. All other positions in the Bahá'í administration are open to both male and female Bahá'ís.

::"women are the equals of men in all rights save only that of membership on the Universal House of Justice, for, as hath been stated in the text of the Book ("Kitáb-i-Aqdas"), both the Head and the members of the House of Justice are men.":::(`Abdu'l-Bahá quoted in "The Universal House of Justice, 1988 May 31, Women and UHJ Membership")

::"there is a Tablet from 'Abdu'l-Bahá in which he definitely states that the membership of the Universal House of Justice is confined to men, and that the wisdom of it will be fully revealed and appreciated in the future.":::(Letter by Shoghi Effendi (28 July 1936) quoted "The Universal House of Justice, 1988 May 31, Women and UHJ Membership")

*Inheritance - Regarding the laws of intestacy, when a Bahá'í dies without a will, fathers receive slightly more than mothers, brothers slightly more than sisters, and if the deceased owned a personal residence, such residence passes to the eldest son. Such laws of inheritance apply only in the case that a Bahá'í dies without leaving a will. Bahá'ís are obliged to write a will themselves, and are encouraged to decide on inheritance as they see fit. []



*cite book
title=Paris Talks
publisher=Bahá'í Distribution Service: 1995
id=ISBN 1870989570

*cite book
title=The Promulgation of Universal Peace
publisher=Bahá'í Publishing Trust: 1982
location=Wilmette, Illinois, USA
id=ISBN 0877431728

*cite book
title=Selections From the Writings of `Abdu'l-Bahá
publisher=Bahá'í Publishing Trust: 1978
location=Wilmette, Illinois, USA
id=ISBN 0853980810

*cite book
title=The Kitáb-i-Aqdas: The Most Holy Book
publisher=Bahá'í Publishing Trust
location=Wilmette, Illinois, USA
id=ISBN 0853989990

*cite book
author= Compiled by the Research Department Of The Universal House Of Justice
year= 1986
title= Compilation on Women
publisher=Bahá'í Publishing Trust
location=Wilmette, Illinois, USA
id= ISBN 0877432600

*cite book
title=The Dawn-Breakers: Nabíl’s Narrative
editor=Shoghi Effendi (Translator)
publisher=Bahá'í Publishing Trust
location=Wilmette, Illinois, USA
id=ISBN 0900125225

*cite book
authorlink=Shoghi Effendi
title=God Passes By
publisher=Bahá'í Publishing Trust
location=Wilmette, Illinois, USA
id=ISBN 0877430209

*cite book
author= Khan, Janet A. and Khan, Peter
year= 2003
title= Advancement of Women: A Bahá'í Perspective
publisher=Bahá'í Publishing Trust
location=Wilmette, Illinois, USA
id= ISBN 1931847037

*cite book
author= Khan, Janet A.
year= 2005
title= Prophet's Daughter: The Life and Legacy of Bahíyyih Khánum, Outstanding Heroine Of The Bahá'í Faith
publisher=Bahá'í Publishing Trust
location=Wilmette, Illinois, USA
id= ISBN 1931847142

*cite book
author= van den Hoonaard, Deborah K., and van den Hoonaard, Will C.
year= 2006
title= The Equality of Women and Men: The Experience of the Bahá'í Community of Canada
publisher= Deborah and Will van den Hoonaard
location= Douglas, New Brunswick, Canada
id= ISBN 09685258-1-4

External links

* [ Article by Susan Maneck]
* [ Directory of Bahá'í Articles on Gender Equality]
* [ "When Principle and Authority Collide: Baha'i Responses to the Exclusion of Women from the Universal House of Justice", published in *Nova Religio*, University of California Press]

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