Khwezi Fudu-Cenenda from the Baha’i Office of Public Affairs talks to us about gender equality in the Baha’i faith

Many attendees at our ‘Women in Religious Leadership’ discussion on the 23rd asked us to post copies of the speeches made by the participants. Khwezi Fudu-Cenenda from the Baha’i Office of Public Affairs gave an inspiring speech and has been kind enough to send us a copy, which we have reproduced below.

“It is a pleasure to stand here, on behalf of the Bahá’í community of South Africa, celebrating history being rewritten within the Jewish community, and certainly in our country.

I stand here not as a leader within the Bahá’í Faith, but as a humble servant of the national Baha’i community. In the Bahá’í Faith the community, at local, national and international levels, is guided by divinely and democratically elected institutions. I serve the Bahá’í Office of Public Affairs, which represents the National Spiritual Assembly in government relations, interfaith structures, discourses of society and all engagements with society that extends beyond the day to day activities of the Bahá’í community. I thus stand here with the blessing of the National Spiritual Assembly and relay its blessing and words of congratulations on the auspicious occasion of the Ordination of Rabbi Margolis.

This is certainly a milestone in the Jewish community and reflects the progressive nature of this community.

Bahá’ís believe that men and women are equal in the sight of God, always have been and will always remain. Humanity has seen this equality evolve from the acceptance of its spiritual nature to the more modern social application – the 2 are equally important.

As a Bahá’í I cannot talk about gender equality without reflecting on Fatima Baraghani, one of the early disciples of The Bab. The Bab, which means The Gate, was the forerunner of Bahá’u’lláh and had come to prepare humanity for the coming of Bahá’u’lláh, whose name means the Glory of God, and is the Manifestation of God who founded the Bahá’í Faith.

In the middle of the 19th century where Babis and later Bahá’ís would face much persecution at the hands of Persian authorities and the clergy, Fatima came out boldly to proclaim and evince that men and women are equal in the sight of God and should be

afforded equal opportunities in society. Her boldness would lead to her imprisonment and eventually to her execution in 1852.

She was a great poet and was well-learned in religious texts; again something totally abhorrent in Persia at the time.

Being as fearless as she was, to the faces of her executioners she pronounced ‘You can kill me as soon as you like but you cannot stop the emancipation of women’.

For her pure heart, she was given the title of Tahirih, meaning the Pure One, and would serve as a symbol of strength, courage, and the emancipation of women in the Bahá’í world.

The magnitude of this commemoration today to me is symbolic of the spirit of Tahirih.

So, I started off my stating that in the Bahá’í Faith men and women are equal.

  1. Equality of men and women – Spiritual principle in the Bahá’í Faith

 

Quotation: “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.

In many instances, our society instils upon women that they should take the equality from the men, or society, and in other instances the rhetoric is that men should give the equality to men.

In order for equality to be realised it is essential that men engage in a careful, deliberate examination of attitudes, feelings, and behaviour deeply rooted in cultural habit, that block the equal participation of women and stifle the growth of men.

And of cause, women have to be proactive in their participation in society and community building, and not succumb to a victim mentality.

However, in my understanding, I feel it is important to note that we do not give or take something that God has given for all of us to share; we merely contribute together to create an environment that will allow all of us to equitably share that which God has gifted us with.

  1. Men and women complement each other and are each other’s help mates

 

Quotation “… 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 co-adjuster of man; his complement, help mate. 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 co-equals. 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 ….

The quotation highlights the importance of equal opportunities for education for both men and women, and thus be well-equipped to take equal opportunities to contribute towards the betterment of society. Bahá’ís believe that the role of all on earth is to serve God by serving others and developing spiritual virtues. When denied the opportunity to be educated, one’s ability and magnitude for service are diminished.

The Bahá’í Faith goes as far as preferring the education of girl children over boys, as women are naturally the first educators of the next generation.

In another analogy, men and women are described as the wings of a bird. Not until both wings are strengthened can the bird fly. Thus it stands that, if the bird was the world of humanity, it begs to

say that society as a whole will never reach its full potential so long as not both men and women are strengthened.

No Nation Can Achieve Success Unless and until Education is Accorded to All Its Citizens.

  1. Feminine qualities are necessary for society to function most optimally; qualities which in the past have been identified as weakness.

 

Earlier, we mentioned the complementarity of men and women towards building a better society, which by its nature does not imply sameness.

Quotation: ‘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 dominance, 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 less masculine and more permeated with the feminine ideals . . . an age in which the masculine and feminine elements of civilization will be more evenly balanced.

  1. The Emancipation of Women and The Achievement of Full Equality is one of the Most Important Pre-requisites For Peace

 

Quotation: “The emancipation of women, the achievement of full equality between the sexes, is one of the most important, though less acknowledged pre-requisites of peace. The denial of such equality perpetrates an injustice against one half of the world’s population and promotes in men harmful attitudes and habits that are carried from the family to the workplace, to political life, and ultimately to international relations. There are no grounds, moral, practical, or biological, upon which such denial can be justified. Only as women are welcomed into full partnership in all fields of

human endeavour will the moral and psychological climate be created in which international peace can emerge.”

  1. Given the feminine qualities of compassion and intuition, it then begs to say that when women take up leadership positions there will be no war as women by their nature are opposed to war

 

Quotation “… Woman by nature is oppose to war; she is an advocate of peace. Children are reared and brought up by the mothers who give them the first principles of education and labour assiduously in their behalf. Consider, for instance, a mother who has tenderly reared a son for twenty years to the age of maturity. Surely she will not consent to having that so torn asunder and killed in the field of battle. Therefore, as woman advance toward the degree of man in power and privilege, with the right of vote an control in human government, most assuredly war will cease; for women naturally the most devoted and staunch advocate of international peace.”

  1. One cannot talk about gender equality and not talk about moral courage

 

Quotation: “The woman is indeed of the greater importance to the race. She has the greater burden and the greater work. Look at the vegetable and the animal worlds. The palm which carries the fruit is the tree most prized by the date grower. The Arab knows that for a long journey the mare has the longest wind. For her greater strength and fierceness, the lioness is more feared by the hunter than the lion… ‘The Women has greater moral courage than the man; she has also special gifts which enable her to govern in moments of danger and crisis.”

In the South African context they say ‘Wathint’umfazi, wathita imbhokodo’ – ‘You strike a woman you strike a rock’

I will close off by again congratulating Rabbi Margolis on her ordination as the first woman Rabbi in our beloved country. May your leadership assist in establishing unity for all citizens in our country, her education enlighten the children of this great nation, your feminine virtues make our sons more gentle and your moral courage re-establish equilibrium that has certainly shifted in society towards greater potential and equity for all.

We pray for a world where the achievements of women will not draw attention as an equal playing field will have been established where all will work side by side in the building of the Kingdom of God on earth.

Thank you”