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I can’t help but to jump into the recent discussion about women’s rights and opportunities in The Beacon. It began in the May 11-17 edition with Joan Carter’s observation that circumscribing women’s rights and opportunities harms the country as a whole.

A week or so later, Tom Armistead supported and expanded upon her points, noting that, as Baha’i Writings point out, women are “the first educators of mankind.” Ponder that for more than a minute, and you’ll see, as Tom wrote, women “play a critical role in the progress of humanity.”

In the interest of full disclosure, Tom Armistead is my husband, though that has no bearing on the comments to follow. It does, however, explain my use of his first name here. I applaud his support of women’s rights and significance. I never tire of seeing another man standing with us. It’s especially gratifying when that man is one’s husband.

I’m writing, though, not simply to support his comments, but to expand on them. Reading his letter, I felt more should be said about the nearly limitless range of opportunities that should be available to both genders.

Tom mentioned that women are children’s first educators. This biological fact is acknowledged by Baha’i Writings. (We’ll leave alone the issue of so-called “test-tube babies.”)

We know now that the fetus is learning about the world while in the womb. For example, it hears voices, picks up bits of language, and gets a sense of whether the world is mostly stressful or peaceful.

Nursing, if the mother chooses to and can do so, offers the baby other significant information along with daily rations. So, science backs up the “first educator” role.

But men are by no means irrelevant. “[I]t is enjoined upon the father and mother, as a duty, to strive with all effort to train the daughter and the son, to nurse them from the breast of knowledge and to rear them in the bosom of sciences and arts,” Baha’i Writings say. “Should they neglect this matter, they shall be held responsible and worthy of reproach. …”

Parenting is a job for mothers and fathers. Nor does being the first educator consign mothers to the homefront throughout their children’s growing years. I know Tom agrees, as our Baha’i Faith champions women’s full participation in their societies.

According to Baha’i thinking, “The women go neck and neck with the men. In no movement will they be left behind. Their rights with men are equal in degree. They will enter all the administrative branches of politics. They will attain in all such a degree as will be considered the very highest station of the world of humanity and will take part in all affairs.”

Further, “[u]ntil the reality of equality between man and woman is fully established and attained, the highest social development of mankind is not possible.” Think of a bird, the Writings invite us. With one underdeveloped wing, its progress is slow.

Choices, freedom and equality are good for everyone. If we want to move the country — and the world — forward, that’s a good place to start.

— Radley has been a Baha’i for nearly 60 years. She is an author of children’s books and is a former Stetson University English instructor.


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