Academic journal article The Journal of Baha'i Studies

The Equality of Women and Men: The Experience of the Bahã¡'ã­ Community of Canada

Academic journal article The Journal of Baha'i Studies

The Equality of Women and Men: The Experience of the Bahã¡'ã­ Community of Canada

Article excerpt

The Equality of Women and Men: The Experience of the Bahá'í Community of Canada. By Deborah K. van den Hoonaard and Will C. van den Hoonaard. Douglas, New Brunswick: published by the authors, 2006.

What does the equality of women and men mean to the Canadian Bahá'í community? How is this principle being implemented? These were the questions on the mind of the authors when they responded to the unusual request of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of Canada to find out where Baha'is stand on implementing equality. This book is a result of the project and represents the first empirical study of a Baha'i group to be undertaken by one of the 175 Bahá'í national communities worldwide.

Since it was a qualitative study, the book differs significantly from other Bahá'í publications. Its goal was to present findings arising from discussions among a sample of Bahá'í community members, and to make sense of this data through sociological analysis. It therefore allows for a one-ofa-kind exploration about equality from the viewpoint of grassroots members, as well as an academic perspective.

The van den Hoonaards were motivated by both personal and academic reasons to engage in this study. They were eager to understand how the contemporary community (in the mid-1990s) was handling the struggle to establish equality as a joint mutual effort, and the processes involved in facilitating new patterns of interaction.

There were many challenges in undertaking the project. As they describe it, the equality of women and men is a fundamental verity of the Bahá'í teachings, and, as such, is seen as an unarguable, indisputable fact. There are many passages in the Baha'i Writings offering guidance about new forms of equality. However, no one knows what equality looks like in contemporary times. They felt, in fact, that they were venturing into "unknown territory." Nonetheless, the authors, both sociologists with distinguished academic careers in teaching and research, were well prepared to assume the daunting task. Moreover, because they are married partners and parents, they have seasoned experience and a vested interest in applying this principle in the family, in Baha'i community life, and in the larger society.

It was an undeniable challenge for the authors to approach Baha'is, for many of whom the principle of equality is virtually taken for granted. Thus, they decided to take a qualitative methods approach, engaging 119 participants and eleven facilitators to work with eleven focus groups. These groups were composed of individuals drawn from cities, towns, and villages, and including groups of youth, Persians, and francophones, thus representing a broad cross section of Baha'i communities across Canada. Each participant was asked to come up with questions which would serve as indicators of equality on an imagined survey. The aim of this approach was to find out how Baha'is envision equality.

The book is divided into ten chapters with five appendixes, a bibliography, and an index, and is organized in three sections: the first deals with the social dynamics of the focus groups; the second addresses the issues at the heart of the community-namely family, household, children, youth, encouragement, and discovering harmful habits; the third focuses on how the Bahá'í community relates to the world at large. The introduction provides a brief and helpful overview of the cultural and social background of the participants, some examination of Canadian society at large, and a description of the position of women in early Bahá'í history in Iran and in Canada. Several pages are devoted to reviewing statistics about women's participation in the administrative order in Canada, as well as activities that have been promoted by the national and local Bahá'í communities. The section on research problems is particularly useful as it not only describes the difficulties the authors faced in designing the research project, but also provides a context for understanding the diverse worldviews of the participants, their cultural predispositions, and attitudes based on Bahá'í principles. …

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