Perspective

Women and Peace

In Brief: 

Women's advocacy has dramatically changed the way the world looks at international economics, sustainable development, and human rights -- critical elelments in the foundation for peace and prosperity.

When the history of how humanity finally achieved lasting peace and global prosperity is ultimately written, it is quite likely that scholars will pinpoint the decade of the 1990s as among the most fruitful periods in laying the foundations for such a new world.

The end of the Cold War, of course, stands as a pivotal episode in the emergence of international peace, and that event might be said to have occurred in the late 1980s. But the end of the Cold War only signalized the end of an old era; it did not necessarily establish the basis for a new one.

In the 1990s, however, the United Nations has sponsored an unprecedented series of world conferences, starting with the Children's Summit in New York in 1990, and then continuing with the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, the World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna in 1993, the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo in 1994, and the Social Summit in Copenhagen in 1995.

Some say that such meetings merely produce much talk and little substance. But whatever their shortcomings in terms of concrete commitments, a thoughtful reading of the collective documents - including NGO statements - that have emerged from each conference shows that a remarkable degree of international agreement has been reached on the norms and values needed to construct a just, peaceful and sustainable world civilization.

In September, the next gathering in this series will take place in Beijing. And the Fourth World Conference on Women, likewise, promises to bring to the world's consciousness another essential element in the creation of global peace and prosperity: the achievement of full equality between women and men.

When one considers the entire series of conferences, it will be seen that the increasing presence and growing influence of the world's women - which the Beijing conference promises to showcase - will have been one of the most important factors in helping the world to see exactly which values and principles can contribute most to the peace and well-being of all humanity.

Women's advocacy over the last few years has dramatically changed the way the world looks at international economics, sustainable development, and human rights. The changes women have promoted in these areas are critical elements in the foundation for peace and prosperity.

In Rio, women brought to the attention of the world's leaders the degree to which they, as small farmers and household decision-makers, hold the key to sustainable development.

In Vienna, women helped the world see that human rights must be extended across all boundaries, whether of race, ethnicity, nationality or gender, if peace and justice are to be attained. Their status as the oppressed majority - women compose more than half of the world's population - gave no small amount of moral impetus to the conference.

In Cairo, women successfully argued that the education and empowerment of women are the best ways to bring down population growth and to promote fruitful development. Their role as mothers gave unassailable credibility to their views.

And in Copenhagen, women were instrumental in analyzing and calling attention to the impact of old world economic systems on the poor, most of whom are women, and in helping to project new ideas for alternative models of social development. (Women, of course, have been in the vanguard of social development; their value as experts is only now becoming recognized.)

While there are some who would still seek to marginalize the contributions of women, and who perhaps tend therefore to devalue the importance of the Beijing conference, we are of the view that it is in many ways one of the most important gatherings of the decade.

Members of the Bahá'í Faith, who today compose a worldwide community of more than five million individuals in some 232 countries and territories, are united in the view that men and women everywhere must begin to forge a new and equal partnership. This is not only a matter of justice but the key to the realization of the age-old dream of universal peace and prosperity.

More than 80 years ago, 'Abdu'l-Bahá, the son of the Founder of the Bahá'í Faith, said: "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." In another passage, he continued: "…until this equality is established, true progress and attainment for the human race will not be facilitated."

'Abdu'l-Bahá, whose words Bahá'ís revere, also indicated that such a peace would be realized because of the essential qualities that women, when equality is achieved, can bring to all spheres of life.

"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," he said. "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 less masculine, and more permeated with the feminine ideals - or, to speak more exactly, will be an age in which the masculine and feminine elements of civilization will be more evenly balanced."

Seen in light of such inevitable progress towards a new partnership between women and men, the Beijing Conference is already a success. The ideas and networking and connections that have been made by women around the world in advance of the event, and their influence in the preceding United Nations conferences, has had an incalculable effect. The peace that comes as a result of the new values and norms that have been recognized and fortified by the work of these conferences will be established in no small measure thanks to the efforts of the world's women. To whatever degree the world at large further heeds the voices of the women who gather in Beijing, it will only gain.

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