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‘Balance for Better’ is the global theme for the 2019 commemoration of International Women’s Day – observed annually on 8 March.  As we mark this special day, it is timely to reflect on the complementary roles of women and men, and how understanding of this and ensuring their equality can lead to a more balanced and peaceful world.  

Humanity can be likened to a bird. In the same way that the two wings of a bird complement each other and together facilitate its flight, women and men complement each other in their roles and functions. Unless they are accorded the same rights, privileges and opportunities in all spheres of human endeavour, we cannot attain a balanced, progressive and united world.  

The Bahá’í Writings state: “world of humanity is possessed of two wings: the male and the female.  So long as these two wings are not equivalent in strength, the bird will not fly.  Until womankind reaches the same degree as man, until she enjoys the same arena of activity, extraordinary attainment for humanity will not be realized; humanity cannot wing its way to heights of real attainment”. 

Despite significant improvement in the status of women and girls in the last few decades, women are frequently not treated as equals in their families or in society, and the conventional beliefs that women are inferior to men make them easy targets for anger, discrimination and violence.  

The Bahá'í International Community in its March 2017 statement to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women asserts: “Women and men are equal, and always have been. This is a spiritual truth whose expression in the world has been suppressed throughout most of history, owing in part to imbalanced systems and structures that have long favoured men’s progress and participation over women’s,” and “until these inequalities are thoroughly uprooted from the fabric of society, humanity will remain mired in the conflict, despair, confusion, and imbalance that have come to define much of modern life”.

The challenge today is how to create the conditions in which women and girls can develop to their full potential. The creation of such conditions will involve not only deliberate attempts to change various structures of society, but, equally importantly it will necessitate the transformation of individuals – men and women, boys and girls.  

Women play a central role in the development of families, communities and nations. Their empowerment and the attainment of their rightful and equal status with men, requires profound changes in the minds and hearts of both men and women. It begins with the understanding that gender equality is not only a desired condition for the common good, but a dimension of human reality.  

According to the Universal House of Justice, the governing council of the Bahá'í International Community: “… the equality of men and women is …a universal spiritual truth about an aspect of the nature of human beings ...  It is, above all, a requirement of justice.  This principle is consonant with the highest rectitude of conduct, its application strengthens family life, and it is essential to the regeneration and progress of any nation, the peace of the world, and the advancement of civilization”. 

The principle of the equality of men and women does not imply sameness or identity of function, as the Universal House of Justice states: “Equality between men and women does not, indeed physiologically it cannot, mean identity of function. In some things women excel men, in others men are better than women, while in very many things the difference in sex is of no effect at all”.  

The complementary roles of men and women also imply that, if one is defective, the other also cannot attain to perfection. "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," assert the Bahá'í Writings and confirm that: “The advancement of civilization now requires the full participation of everyone, including women. Women must, therefore, be educated, not only for the service they render to humanity as the first educators of children, but ultimately, for the special contributions women must make to the creation of a just world order, an order characterized by such compassion, vigour and scope has never been seen in history”. 

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