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 Hoonard

This book presents a sociological study undertaken by the Baha’is of Canada to examine implementation of the Baha’i tenet of equality between the sexes. It is a very detailed report that looks closely at a variety of communities and their experiences as they attempt to develop and implement a concept central to the Faith, but often not present in the external society. The authors, a married couple, are both sociologists and appear to have followed a rigorous scientific approach, with adherence to sociological and statistical norms typical in a scholarly examination. With a sample group of 119 Baha’is in twelve focus groups, the authors followed discussions over the course of a year.

Discussions were taped and transcribed-in one case, translation from the French was required as well- and then analyzed for themes common across all groups, and those unique to individual groups. What emerges is a portrait of individuals and communities in transition, attempting to better understand and implement this important facet of Baha’i life in their relationships with family, friends, the Baha’i community, and society at large. The authors conclude that two very important supports in progress toward the goal of equality are the Baha’i emphasis on family life, and the Baha’i process of consultation. They examine both the type of factors that encourage development of equality, and those that might be impediments to progress. This book is rich in detail, often quoting transcriptions of individuals as they think through their responses to the questions posed in the focus groups. A significant amount of background is presented as the authors describe general sociological information, the study specifics, Baha’i life and basic religious background, and the variety of results that the study brought forth. The book is important from the standpoint of being the first study of its kind, the results it shows, and for the information it provides on the attitudes Baha’is perceive from the society at large and they focus on developing equality.

From the book:

Promoting the equality of men and women is likely more difficult because it involves re-examining suppositions and habits of thought that we have grown accustomed to since earliest childhood. Johnson asserts that we are “unaware of deeper social realities because we don’t know how to be aware (Jonson’s emphasis). When we posed the question, “How can we discover those habits which maintain inequality?” the focus groups identified a few of the bad habits, spoke of the many things that can be done from a Baha’i perspective to eliminate those habits, came up with some ideas about how the larger community can assist the Baha’is, and offered advice in general as to how this subject question was prompted by a message from the Universal House of Justice regarding violence and abuse against women and children.

…The focus groups had some difficulty identifying the destructive habits that characterize the structural and interpersonal relationships between men and women, both without and within the Baha’i community; rather, they focused on undesirable behaviour more than habits. In fact, the focus group that was able to identify most of those behaviours was also the one that adopted a more non-Baha’i perspective, and the members of the focus groups that were able to identify those behaviours within the Baha’i community tended to be women.

Find this book at the Bahá’í Center bookstore.