The following piece is a reflection written by our Baha’i Chair Student Intern, Sara Rissanen. This piece discusses Empowerment of Women and Peace, one of the five central themes of the Baha’i Chair for World Peace.
Empowerment of Women and Peace is the third of the five central themes of the Baha’i Chair for World Peace. As an intern for the Baha’i Chair, I have learned the essence of this theme and have come to see how it plays out in my own life and our world as a whole. In saying that, I am still a student, learning every day how to bring about a world of peace. I hope you enjoy these thoughts and reflections on what this theme means to me and how I see it playing out in our world today.
Empowerment of women is a subject I, personally, am very passionate about. It can be argued that the role of women in peace-building is vital solely because women make up half of our world population. The Baha’i Chair for World Peace believes that women are a key part of removing barriers to global peace as women’s full participation in constructing a different world where they have full equality of education and opportunity and an equal voice in decision-making is required to create sustainable social order. The empowerment of women goes much further than just gender equality, although this is a large part of it. I believe that without women being given the opportunity to succeed, there is no possible way that a society or the world can succeed. When women are able to be their best selves this translates to their families, workplaces, and communities.
When it comes to representation in society, whether that be the workplace, in politics, or online, we commonly view a single person as a representative of the entirety of their group. While women are a single group, within this group are women of all socioeconomic standings, races, religions, nationalities, and (dis)abilities. Much of the time gender rights fail to lift up all these aspects and therefore fail to lift up women equally. Every woman faces unique struggles based on her standing in other areas of privilege. While considering all these differences among women, we also need to consider the similarities – the universal story of oppression and the strength of women.
I feel as if much of the time we attribute women’s role in peace-building to the ability of women to portray qualities that are peaceful in nature – caring, loving, gentle. While these qualities are viewed as more feminine, both men and women have the ability to bring these qualities for more peaceful discourse. Women have the capacity to bring about a peaceful world, not only because of these feminine qualities but solely because they are human.
The long patriarchal history of our society has yet to recognize women’s role in building a peaceful society or to recognize a woman as human before the fact that she is a woman. This creates expectations that in roles where women are given an equal opportunity to men that women in these roles have to be flawless. That they aren’t allowed to make mistakes, for the blame would not only land on her but on women as a whole. The moment we stop seeing women as less than, or expecting them to be more than, and we start viewing the empowerment of women as the empowerment of all of humanity can we really create world peace.
It can be said that any individual is at a disadvantage when part of their mental energy goes towards worry or fear. Due to our societal expectations for women – from femininity and beauty-standards to body-image – much of the time women, especially teenagers and young women, put mental energy towards self-objectification and self-judgment. This takes away energy from valuable areas of their lives such as education, work, or building strong, healthy relationships. This detriment multiplies as worry changes to fear for one’s freedom, safety, or well-being.
Women worldwide face these fears every day. Women worldwide face issues of equal pay in the workforce, domestic abuse, gender-based violence, sex trafficking, and a fight for reproductive rights. On top of that, women in developing nations also are facing issues of access to education and employment opportunities, maternal health access, female genital mutilation, and child marriages. These are serious problems that cannot be downplayed. Women do not have the capability to reach their fullest capacity if any of these issues are present in their lives.
Without women being given a greater ability to succeed, we cannot say that we are creating a more successful world. With the empowerment of any group comes greater success for society at large.
You can view all of the lectures in this series on our youtube channel here.
About the Author
Sara Rissanen is a junior studying Marketing at the University of Maryland. She is currently the Marketing Specialist at the Baha’i Chair for World Peace. Sara hopes to create a better future by opening the conversation of peace-building among her peers.