Baha'i News -- New Statement from the Bahá'í Community of the United Kingdom

A Statement from the Bahá'í Community of the United Kingdom

RESPONSE TO A GOVERNMENT CONSULTATION PAPER ON
"COMMUNITY COHESION"

The Bahá'í community throughout the world works to build social and community cohesion and has done so throughout its history. It has achieved notable successes in bringing together people of different ethnic groups in the United States, India and South Africa, amongst others. This work is founded on the fundamental principle that there is only one human race, a single human family bound together in a single destiny. The Bahá'í community itself is a model of how people of diverse ethnic, linguistic, religious and other backgrounds can form a cohesive whole, while still respecting and nurturing its cultural and other forms of diversity.

We believe that genuine and sustainable social cohesion can be based only on this principle and all that flows from it in terms of positive social values and conduct. Without oneness, diversity becomes division. But when we share a common vision of our human oneness, we value and celebrate our diversity, we work together to build a unified, just and peaceful society, in which people's talents and capacities are developed and released in service to all.

The corollary of this is that it is essential not to see ethnic, religious or lifestyle groups as somehow living behind impermeable membranes free of the need for self-examination and change. The Bahá'í community believes that certain values, such as the equality of women and men, are universal, and should be adhered to by all groups, regardless of culture or tradition. Thus community cohesion should not be seen as cohesion between a "community of communities" (as one academic has proposed), but the cohesion of a single human community within which there are many sub-groups. The "community of communities" model can lead only to exclusion and competition and a breakdown of true cohesion.

With this understanding deeply embedded in people's hearts and minds and in the culture of every community, it becomes easier to seek co-operatively for win-win solutions to some of the issues mentioned in the document, such as housing provision, regeneration funding and so on. It becomes clear that families and schools are places where such an understanding and vision must be nurtured. The two work together. A school with an ethos based on unity in diversity can have a major impact on its students and their parents. Parents who want their children educated to understand their common humanity and to value diversity will influence the ethos and policies of the school.

One of the most important things families and schools can do is to empower girl children to take an active role in shaping a just and united society. Girls become the mothers and first educators of the next generation and pass on their values to their children. The experience of the Bahá'í community in different continents and in a wide range of cultural and economic settings is that education of girls and the empowerment of women are amongst the most effective interventions that can be made in the development and regeneration of communities.

We feel that the absence of a specific focus on gender and the role of women in social/community cohesion is a major shortcoming. Lack of cohesion impacts disproportionately on women and children - as can be demonstrated by experience in Northern Ireland and other conflict areas. Conversely, women play a central - if often unseen - role in building community cohesion. We believe that the Guidance document should very strongly advise Local Authorities to build strong partnerships with grassroots women and local women's groups. This may meet resistance from the men of some groups, but it is essential for Local Authorities to focus on the role of women as a powerful resource for cohesion more than as victims of conflict. Seeing women as a "problem" to be solved or purely as victims is entirely counter-productive. Experience in a conflict zones around the world conclusively demonstrates that women, given half a chance and moderate support, are far better at rebuilding divided communities than are men.

August 2002 CE

National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the United Kingdom
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