(Trying to) Take Ownership as a White Male

March 26, 2007

Over dinner tonight my wife and I were talking about the paucity of major news coverage of women's rights and justice. In the U.S., it seems that you are more likely to find an in-depth look at the current status of women in Afghanistan in a "fashion" magazine than in Newsweek or the other news weeklys. That is definitely a sad state of affairs. We talked about how so many people seemed to have felt that the plight of women was instantly and completely rectified after the overthrow of the Taliban.

Photo used by permission of Flickr user lakerae

This reminded me of the Civil Rights movement of the 60s; so many Americans think that cured the racial injustices in our country. That movement made important and incredible strides, but there is still a long way to go. Institutional and personal racism — and sexism — cannot be legislated away, though legislation and criminalization are certainly important steps.

In a talk delivered in 1912, 'Abdu'l-Baha said that, "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." If he is correct — as I believe he is — then our mission of "overcoming religiously motivated violence" must wholeheartedly embrace the cause of gender equality if it is to be more than a platitude.

Returning to the theme of fashion mags versus the "mainstream news" magazines, we agreed that, without resorting to violence, women will not achieve equality without men taking ownership of the issue themselves. And again this is true of racism as well: until the majority — Caucasians like me — really step to the plate and actively seek unity and equality, then it is hard to imagine any solution short of violence. The National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of the U.S., in a document called Two Wings of a Bird, similarly wrote "Men have an inescapable duty to promote the equality of women. The presumption of superiority by men thwarts the ambition of women and inhibits the creation of an environment in which equality may reign."

I need to do some clear thinking about how I can react to this discussion in deeds and not just words. One immediate step is to support Annie Imbens-Fransen's three-part proposal to further promote the issue of women's rights within the URI. These are simple steps, but would indicate a strong and continuing commitment by the URI to elimination of violence against women.

  1. To commemorate annualy the UN International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on November 25th.
  2. To include Women in the list of themes in the left column of the URI Website;
  3. To add a box in the middle of the URI Website with the symbols of the United Nations and UNIFEM International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women November 25th in which a text written by the Staff of URI with information on this issue.

(This posting was originally written as an e-mail in response to Ms. Imben-Fransen and members and friends of the URI Council of Women).