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Key Issues

What are the Bahá'í International Community’s positions on key issues?

Advancement of women

The emancipation of women, the achievement of full equality between the sexes, is one of the most important, though less acknowledged prerequisites 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 endeavor will the moral and psychological climate be created in which international peace can emerge.

Role of men and boys in the advancement of women.

Boys must be raised with an understanding of the equality of women and men and be prepared to work together with women as equal partners in all fields of human endeavor. Failure to educate boys for equality will have devastating consequences not only for girls, but also for society as a whole. As long as the oppression of women is tolerated, men will continue to harbor harmful attitudes and habits that they carry from the family to the work place, to political life and ultimately to international relations. Because the attitude of superiority, fostered in men by erroneous beliefs, is often unconscious, programs should be instituted to sensitize males, both boys and men, to the ways in which they may unknowingly discourage girls and block their progress.[1]

Equality and the girl child.

Not only must girl children receive adequate food, health care, and education, they must be given every opportunity to develop their capacities. As women become educated and enter all fields of human endeavor, they will make unique contributions to the creation of a just world order -- an order characterized by vigor, cooperation, harmony, and a degree of compassion never before witnessed in history. In addition, as mothers they render an invaluable service to humanity by educating the next generation. In that capacity they will be the primary agents for the transformation of society. The dual responsibility of developing the child's character and stimulating the intellect belongs not only to the mother, but to the family as a whole and to the community.[2]

Role of religion.

  • Every religion, particularly in its early stages, has evoked a new vision for society, articulated values consonant with that vision, and inspired both personal and institutional transformation. At the same time, it must be acknowledged that religion has also been a source of division and social fragmentation. Religious leaders and people of faith today have a special responsibility to reaffirm those spiritual and ethical principles capable of transforming human relationships in a way that allows every soul to develop and express its capacities.
  • The personal transformation required for true equality will undoubtedly be difficult for men and women alike. Both must relinquish all attachment to guilt and blame and courageously assume responsibility for their own part in transforming the societies in which they live. Men must use their influence, particularly in the civil, political and religious institutions they control, to promote the systematic inclusion of women, not out of condescension or presumed self-sacrifice but out of the belief that the contributions of women are required for society to progress. Women, for their part, must become educated and step forward into all arenas of human activity, contributing their particular qualities, skills and experience to the social, economic and political equation.[3]

Ending violence against women.

Violence against women is a yardstick by which one can measure the violation of all human rights. It can be used to gauge the degree to which a society is governed by aggression, dominated by competition and ruled by force. Abusive practices against women have frequently been and are still being justified in the context of cultural norms, religious beliefs and unfounded "scientific theories" and assumptions. Whatever its political or religious system, a society patterned on dominance inevitably gives rise to such distortions of power as violence against women. Violence against women degrades not only the victim but the perpetrator as well; those who inflict violence on women are themselves among the casualties of power-based systems.[4]

AIDS and gender equality.

The denial of equality to women not only promotes in men harmful attitudes and habits that affect their families, the workplace, political decisions and international relations; it also contributes substantially to the spread of HIV/AIDS and retards the progress of society. Notice how culturally accepted social inequalities conspire with economic vulnerability to leave women and girls with little or no power to reject unwanted or unsafe sex. Yet, once infected with HIV/AIDS, women are often stigmatized as the source of the disease and persecuted, sometimes violently. Meanwhile, the burden of caring for people living with HIV/AIDS and for children orphaned by the disease falls predominantly on women. Traditional gender roles that have gone unquestioned for generations must now be re-examined in the light of justice and compassion. Ultimately, nothing short of a spiritual transformation will move men--and women--to forego the behaviors that contribute to the spread of AIDS. Such a transformation is as important for men as it is for women, because "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".

Development

Purpose of development.

The Bahá’í International Community views the purpose of development as contributing to the foundation for a new social and international order, capable of creating and sustaining conditions in which human beings can advance morally, culturally, and intellectually.[7] This purpose is rooted in the understanding that the transformation of society will involve profound changes in the individual as well as the deliberate and systematic re-creation of social structures. From this perspective, poverty can be defined as the absence of resources – physical, social, and ethical – necessary for the establishment of conditions, which promote the moral, material, and creative capacities of individuals, communities, and institutions.

Overcoming poverty.

Guided by the definition of poverty as absence of resources – physical, social, and ethical – necessary for the establishment of conditions, which promote the moral, material, and creative capacities of individuals, communities, and institutions, the Bahá'í International Community works to advance, among others, the following initiatives to overcome poverty worldwide.

      • A fundamental paradigm shift on the part of nations and individuals. Our particularistic frames of reference – defined by ethnic or religious community, nation, “North” and “South,” “developed” and “developing,” or regional alliances – must gradually give way to an emerging sense of global solidarity and responsibility. Such a paradigm shift represents a practical response to the recognition that peace and prosperity are today indivisible and that no sustainable benefit can be conferred on a nation or community if the welfare of the nations as a whole is ignored or neglected.

      • Enhanced local deliberative and problem-solving capacity. The challenge for development efforts is to find methods that allow individuals and communities to solve their own problems. Such efforts can begin on a small scale, allowing capacity and complexity to emerge gradually, and grow in scale as communities develop resources and skills to set the path of their development. One of the essential skills involved is that of group decision-making – bringing together diverse views, searching for the best solution, and generating commitment and solidarity to carry the decision through.

      • Gender-based budgeting. While many studies confirm that female poverty cannot be conceptualized the same way as male poverty, these differences are rarely reflected in official poverty statistics and do not inform decisions about resource allocation. Public expenditures must include a gender analysis – involving women in budget decision-making and assessing the impact of fiscal measures on the status of women in the community.

      • Create rural centers of technology training and research. While the adoption of new technologies is integral to development, too often – under the guise of ‘modernization’– these have been inappropriate to the culture and community into which they were introduced. While the spread of knowledge and technology is essential to development, the masses of people cannot continue to be regarded mainly as users of products of science created elsewhere. True development consists of the creation of indigenous capacity to participate in the generation of technologies for the benefit of the broader community.

      • Eliminate extremes of wealth and poverty. Extremes of poverty are linked to extremes of wealth. Given the interconnectedness of the global economic system, one extreme cannot be abolished while the other is allowed to exist. In this regard, efforts to eradicate poverty must include an earnest re-evaluation of global systems and processes – including governance, trade, and the private transactions – that perpetuate the growing extremes of wealth and poverty.

Valuing spirituality in development.

The measures and indicators used to assess poverty and human development, such as the Gross National Product and the Human Development Index, largely determine what is valued and, as such, shape development policy and priorities. The progress of communities and nations requires not only material inputs and legal measures to secure order, but the development of moral capabilities to govern behavior and decision-making by individuals and institutions. These include, among others: trustworthiness of individuals and elected officials; respect and concern for the welfare of minorities; ability to assess and apportion resources justly and appropriately; the ability to consult constructively with others; the ability to reach peaceful solutions to conflicts; the ability to exercise justice; and the ability to understand one’s actions in the context of advancing the well-being of humankind. 

Trade.

The rich countries of the world have a moral obligation to remove export and trade distorting measures that bar the entry of countries struggling to participate in the global market. The Monterrey Consensus, which recognizes the importance of creating a ‘more open, rule-based, non-discriminatory and equitable’ system of trade is a step in the right direction.[8] Alongside reform in systems of trade, countries must facilitate the flow of labor and address the dehumanizing impact of trafficking in persons, which leads to widespread economic and sexual exploitation of people seeking a better life.

Collective Security

Global federation.

The Bahá’í Faith envisions a system of collective security within a framework of a global federation, a federation in which national borders have been conclusively defined, and in whose favor all the nations of the world will have willingly ceded all rights to maintain armaments except for purposes of maintaining internal order. More…

Role of women.

We commend the United Nations Security Council for its landmark Resolution on “Women, Peace, and Security,”[9]
recognizing for the first time in its history the needs of women and girls in conflict and post-conflict situations and their enduring role in the promotion of peace. We urge the United Nations to take the necessary steps to increase the participation of women at all levels of decision-making in conflict resolution and peace processes, locally, nationally and internationally, including the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.

Terrorism.

A definition of terrorism must be adopted. We agree with the United Nations Secretary-General’s characterization of terrorism as any action, “intended to cause death or serious bodily harm to civilians or non-combatants with the purpose of intimidating a population or compelling a Government or an international organization to do or abstain from doing any act.” Moreover, it is imperative that problems such as terrorism be consistently addressed within the context of other issues that disrupt and destabilize society. 

Security Council reform.

To address the democracy deficit and relentless politicization of the Security Council, the United Nations must in due course move towards adopting a procedure for eventually eliminating permanent membership and veto power. Alongside procedural reforms, a critical change in the attitude and conduct are needed. Member States must recognize that in holding seats on the Security Council and as signatories to the Charter of the United Nations, they have a solemn moral and legal obligation to act as trustees for the entire community of nations, not as advocates of their national interests.

Democracy

Decision-making processes.

We commend the international community for its commitment to a freely elected government as a universal value. However, the standard of deliberation and truth-seeking required for the realization of goals set by the United Nations needs to go far beyond the patterns of partisanship, protest, and compromise that tend to characterize present day discussions of human affairs. What is needed is a consultative process at all levels of governance in which individual participants strive to transcend their respective points of view, in order to function as members of one body with its own interests and goals. Through participation and unity of purpose, consultation becomes the operating expression of justice in human affairs. Without this principled anchor, democracy falls prey to the excesses of individualism and nationalism, which tear at the fabric of the community - both nationally and globally. 


Governance as a moral exercise.

Beyond the administration of material affairs, governance is a moral exercise. It is the expression of a trusteeship – a responsibility to protect and to serve the members of the social polity. Indeed, the exercise of democracy will succeed to the extent that it is governed by the moral principles that are in harmony with the evolving interests of a rapidly maturing human race. These include: trustworthiness and integrity needed to win the respect and support of the governed; transparency; consultation with those affected by decisions being arrived at; objective assessment of needs and aspirations of communities being served; and the appropriate use of scientific and moral resources. 

Equality of men and women.

A healthy democracy must be founded on the principle of the equality of men and women and equal recognition of their contribution to the establishment of a just society. In its efforts to promote democracy, the Member States of the United Nations must vigilantly work for the inclusion of women in all facets of governance in their respective countries. This is not a privilege but a practical necessity for the achievement of the high-minded and complex goals before the Organization today.

Minorities.

The meaningful integration of minority groups in democratic processes is of critical importance – both to shield minorities from the abuses of the past and to encourage their participation and responsibility for the well being of society. We urge Member States, in their work to promote democracy, to strive for the full inclusion of minorities – belonging to any faith, race, or class – in the processes of goal setting and deliberation. As the cultural make-up of states becomes increasingly fluid and diverse, no one cultural or religious group can lay claim to an adequate definition of the national interest.

World citizenship

Unbridled nationalism, as distinguished from a sane and legitimate patriotism, must give way to a wider loyalty, to the love of humanity as a whole. The Bahá'í writings state that, “The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens.” The concept of world citizenship is a direct result of the contraction of the world into a single neighborhood through scientific advances and of the indisputable interdependence of nations. Love of all the world’s peoples does not exclude love of one’s country. The advantage of the part in a world society is best served by promoting the advantage of the whole. Current international activities in various fields, which nurture mutual affection and a sense of solidarity among peoples need greatly to be increased.

Emerging global order

The emerging global order, and the processes of globalization that define it, must be founded on the principle of the oneness of humankind. This principle, accepted and affirmed as a common understanding, provides the practical basis for the organization of relationships between all states and nations. The increasingly apparent interconnectedness of development, security and human rights on a global scale confirms that peace and prosperity are indivisible -- that no sustainable benefit can be conferred on a nation or community if the welfare of the nations as a whole is ignored or neglected. The principle of the oneness of humankind does not seek to undermine national autonomy or suppress the cultural and intellectual diversity of the peoples and nations of the world. Rather, it seeks to broaden the basis of the existing foundations of society by calling for a wider loyalty, a greater aspiration than any that has animated the human race. Indeed, it provides the moral impetus needed to remold the institutions of governance in a manner consistent with the needs of an ever-changing world.


[1] Empowering Girls. Bahá'í International Community statement to the 42nd session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.

2-13 March 1998. http://www.bic-un.bahai.org/98-0303.htm

[2] Equality and the Girl Child. Statement to the 36th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women

Priority Theme: Equality. 17 March 1992. http://www.bic-un.bahai.org/92-0317.htm.

[3] The Role of Religion in Promoting the Advancement of Women. Written statement to the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women. 13 September 1995. http://www.bic-un.bahai.org/95-0913.htm

[4] Ending Violence Against Women. Statement to the 51st session of the UN Commission on Human Rights. 30 January - 10 March 1995. http://www.bic-un.bahai.org/95-0201.htm.

[5] Special Procedures are generally volunteer independent experts (“special rapporteurs”) or a group of experts (“working group”), appointed by the Chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights/ Human Rights Council to investigate, monitor and advise on the human rights situation in a particular country or on a specific theme. They do so through country visits and, in this way, serve as the eyes and ears of the Commission at the ground level.

[6] A non-derogable right is not subject to governmental regulation, even in times of a national emergency.

[7] This is consistent with Article 28 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that, “Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized.”

[8] The Monterrey Consensus, (A/CONF.198/11)

[9] Security Council Resolution 1325 (S/RES/1325 (2000)

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