MOTHERS’ RIGHTS, segment 3 of 5 (see previous posts)
REFRAMING MOTHERHOOD IN THE CONTEXT OF EQUALITY
The Right to Education
According to the Bahá’í writings, foremost among the tools needed by mothers is education. “If the mother is educated then her children will be well taught. When the mother is wise, then will the children be led into the path of wisdom…If the mother is moral she guides her little ones into the ways of uprightness.”6 If it is not possible, therefore, for a family to educate all the children, preference is to be accorded to daughters since girls will someday be mothers, and “mothers are the first educators of the new generation.”7
Some societies seek to preserve the role of motherhood by force and coercion while at the same time denying women (and girls) the right to education. In other cases, we neglect to make education of teenage mothers a matter of vital priority. This complacency implies a lack of understanding that education is the most basic and fundamental instrument for the discharge of a mother’s role. This neglect will lead to the ultimate ruin of the social order and it perpetuates “the process by which ignorance is transmitted from one generation to the next.”8
The most expeditious road to development is the education of mothers and of girls who will be future mothers, for it is through educated mothers that the benefits of knowledge can be most rapidly and effectively diffused throughout society.9
The power of mothers to effect a fundamental lessening of war and to nurture the emergence of peace is also significant. Efforts to prevent escalation of violence and ethnic conflicts may find that education of mothers for peace is the fastest route out of violence. “Mothers will not give their sons as sacrifices upon the battlefield after twenty years of anxiety and loving devotion in rearing them from infancy.”10 They must be encouraged to transmit to their children their natural aversion for war and violence. “Women have greater moral courage,” the Bahá’í writings assert, and “special gifts which enable them to govern in times of danger and crisis.”11 These qualities ought to be harnessed by decision making bodies to help create a culture of peace.
6 ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks (London: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1961), page 162.
7 Universal House of Justice, Kitab-I-Aqdas, (Bahá’í World Centre, Haifa: Universal House of Justice, 1992) note #76, page 199-200.
8 Janet A. Khan and Peter J. Khan, Advancement of Women, A Bahá’í Perspective. (Willmette, Ill., Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1998), page 42.
9 Universal House of Justice, Kitab-I-Aqdas, note #76, pages 199-200.
10 ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Promulgation, page 175.
11 ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in London, (London: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1982), pages 102-103.
Well, it is easier to talk about policy than to live it. I have several confessions to make:
Having done my Ph.D. and then “retired” to have a baby and raise the one I already had, I had a lot of people looking at me in confusion. Why did I get so much education if I was just going to be a stay at home mom?
Furthermore, was raising kids an important enough reason to ditch the golden carrot? (Especially when I’d made the case that women scientists were so needed in the world.)
A Kenyan friend (male) asked me why I wasn’t working (’cause being a mom isn’t “real work”). A Brazilian relative (male) ridiculed me for not having enough ambition to do it all, simultaneously. My husband was relieved and grateful that after a harrowing race to get our Ph.D.’s I was willing to stay home and raise the kids.
But I was left with all this uncertainty and angst (how lucky to have that luxury when most women don’t even have a choice) feeling that I had done something wrong, either by having so much education or by not using it (for a career).
Until an Iranian friend (female) said to me, “Yes, you should get a Ph.D. precisely so you can be a good mother!” It didn’t matter what it was in, she said, my children would benefit. The more education, the better.
Somehow that soothed my soul and I settled into my parenting with greater peace of mind. I was always watching and listening though, to see how my kids would turn out. That would, of course, be the final vindication of my choice.
I am so proud of my kids, they are exceptional human beings. But I’m still not sure I can take any credit for that. They are amazingly independent thinkers and it seems I’m always trying to catch up to them.
But I do know that as a kid I was always very proud of the fact that my mother was an educated woman (she finished her Bachelor’s when she was sixty and went on to work on a Master’s degree). And I am very grateful to her (and my Dad) to have been encouraged to get all the education I wanted. And to have been free to do it.
That is all women want. Freedom. Freedom to get all the knowledge they can and then to pass it on to their loved ones (and to society as a whole). The world will take off like a soaring bird when we educate women.