Baha’i Faith, almost certainly be touted as promoting “equality of men and women” and as such would be a progressive belief almost unique in the world’s religions if it was totally true. The Baha’i Faith claims to support the ideal of equality of men and women as a basic teaching.
But full equality of the sexes? Not in the Baha’i Faith as women are deprived the right to be elected as members of the Universal House of Justice.
Though Baha’u’llah, the prophet-founder of the Baha’i Faith, plainly said that in his religion “women are as men.” What the public generally doesn’t know, is that women are excluded from serving on the religion’s highest governing body, the Universal House of Justice. The Universal House of Justice is the international governing council of the Bahá’í Faith and the center of Bahá’u’lláh’s Covenant today. The ineligibility of women for membership on the Universal House of Justice the exclusion of women from the House is impossible to change, since that provision occurs in the “authorized interpretations” of Baha’i scripture.
The Bahá’í Faith counsel proclaims in understanding of this established provision of the Order of Bahá’u’lláh that membership of the Universal House of Justice is confined to men only, the important point for Bahá’ís to remember is that in the face of the categorical pronouncements in Bahá’í Scripture establishing the equality of men and women, the ineligibility of women for membership on the Universal House of Justice does not constitute evidence of the superiority of men over women.
But no matter how they say it is otherwise membership of the Universal House of Justice is confined to men only is sexist and does constitute evidence of the Bahá’í Faith support of superiority of men over women.
Not only are women excluded from membership in the Universal House of Justice as not a small thing, but is a big deal that is very important as Universal House of Justice body has absolute power over the rest of the worldwide Baha’i community, by its being considered infallible, like Baha’u’llah, Abdu’l-Baha, and Shoghi Effendi before them. All of them were also men, by the way. Clearly, the idea that the sexes are equal in the Baha’i Faith is an outright lie. When a body that has absolute power excludes women from its membership, that means the women of that community have NO power of their own and any appearances of authority from any Baha’i woman is merely phony window dressing.
The exclusion from service of women on the religion’s highest elected institution is not a sign of equality at all. To support women being excluded from the Universal House of Justice Shoghi Effendi quoted from a letter written by his grandfather ‘Abdu’l-Baha, which said that Baha’u’llah referred to the members of the House of Justice as “men”, and that women were therefore not eligible to serve. To many Baha’is, this exclusion cannot be changed any more than a Christian could remove an inconvenient passage from the Bible.
In 1988, a paper called “The Service of Women on the Institutions of the Baha’i Faith” was written by a group of young Baha’i scholars and presented to an Association for Baha’i Studies conference in New Zealand that same year. However, Baha’i authorities suppressed the article, and its authors were forbidden to circulate it, and few were aware of it until it was published on the web in the mid-90s. What this paper revealed was that the letter Shoghi Effendi quoted, and used as a justification for excluding women from the Universal House of Justice was actually written to an early American believer in 1909 and referred to the “House of Justice” (now Spiritual Assembly)in Chicago. The intention of this exclusion, made at a time when most American women didn’t have the right to vote even in ordinary governmental elections, was probably to avoid undue controversy.
It is a principle of the Baha’i Faith to apply its laws and teachings gradually and “wisely”. There are still laws which exist in Baha’i scripture that are not yet applicable world-wide. However, ‘Abdu’l-Baha later reversed the policy of exclusion, giving women the equal status on local and national assemblies that they now enjoy. Besides bringing up the historical context for the letter used to justify women’s exclusion, the “Service of Women” paper points out that while Baha’u’llah refers to the members of the “House of Justice” as men, he also does so when referring to the plural. A reference to “houses of justice” could only mean the local bodies, so that if he intended to exclude women from serving, this would have meant at all levels. It should also be pointed out that the term used for “men” in Arabic, can also be used to mean “notables”.
Instead of welcoming the possibility of resolving a clear conflict between principle and practice in the Baha’i Faith, the Universal House of Justice reacted by suppressing and denying this information. In fact, openly opposing the official stance on this issue can result in retaliation by Baha’i institutions. In 1997,Canadian fantasy writer Michael McKenny was summarily disenrolled, primarily for his outspokenness on email forums for women’s full inclusion in Baha’i administration. In fact, this was the first time the penalty of disenrollment had ever been used, and it was apparently specifically devised to deal with dissidents on the Internet.
Furthermore, in the Baha’i Faith there are particular cases of assignment of different roles to women and men at the level of individual life, family, and society.
Men are, for example, required to do a pilgrimage if they are financially capable of it, and women are not required. Nor are women required as men to be involved in fasting and saying obligatory prayers or an alternative prayer, during menstruation. Mothers have a right for financial support from their husbands, but not the opposite, while they still retain their other rights. A dowry is required to be given from man to woman for a marriage. In cases where there is no ‘last will and testament’ of a deceased person (which is not supposed to happen very often, since Baha’is are required by Bahaullah to write a will to determine how to dispose their property as they wish), some of their female relatives receive an inheritance slightly less than the male relatives.
By Damien Marie AtHope