It is no coincidence that we have come together in Vienna at this auspicious moment in time. Twenty-five years ago, the international community gathered in this city to highlight what may well be one of the most important pillars of peace: the need for equal human rights for women and men.
It is no secret that for most such equality remains a goal rather than a reality for women and men around the planet. Perhaps a bridge between the two can be the institution of family. It is there that the most intense bonds between men and women take shape, and where change is most possible. “The family is the essential cell of human society”. More precisely, the body of society is made up of millions of family cells. Only when each cell operates based on equality will the entire body experience peace.
What transpired in Vienna a quarter of a Century ago culminated in a historic Declaration and Plan of Action. Although history bears witness to the fact that the age old harmful values and traditions prevalent among our male counterparts that render women as second-class citizens may take longer than 25 years to reverse, there are strategies worth exploring that may encourage us all to work shoulder to shoulder and make this a mission possible.
For thousands of years, the world kept moving to the rhythm of inequality, a core value in how we managed our affairs, be it at home or in the halls of power. Gradually, over the past few decades, more and more of those who inhabit the earth are exposed to equality as a core value essential to the new world. The very first line of the preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights identifies equality as a “foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world”. In my view, equality is not tantamount to sameness. Instead, it is a state of being in which we are each able to fulfil the purpose of our life. Equality is the most important value that leavens the processes which allow all members of a family to have access to their development in a complementary and synergetic manner.
Built on the pivotal value of equality are others. Together, they act as warp and woof of life. They help frame thoughts, words and actions that govern our interactions, beginning with the most intimate within the family, and burgeoning into our society at large.
Equality of Thought: The Value of Respect
Although the members of a family may share more than not, there are elements that we perceive and practice differently than even those closest to us. This is merely indicative of diversity, an element that enriches life at every level.
The value that gives us the ability to safeguard the boundaries enabling each to maintain such diversity is respect. This value acts as a fortress for our individuality, the hidden gems or unique capacities that make us each a mine filled with infinite potential for unprecedented creativity. At the core of these gems lie our innermost thoughts; longings that germinate within the bedrock of our soul and blossom into every action and reaction within our environment.
I believe “the reality of man are his thoughts”. Therefore, if we are to truly care for one another, we must respect each other beginning with our thoughts. While centuries of inequality and ego-centric patterns have made dismissing the other to assert one’s own as the reality, an age of equality demands a posture of inclusive investigation, openness and change. It requires a lifelong commitment to find the reality in every situation only after thorough consideration for and by all. When we respect each other’s thoughts, we validate each other’s inmost being. We encourage intimacy. We enable each to access and empathise with the other. We merge together each of our realities, like rivers, to enter the ocean of reality, the surest foundation for success of any action or interaction.
In a post-truth era longing for authenticity, the value of respect is a guarantor for sharing our real thoughts and re-establishing bonds of intimacy, a must for any family.
Equality of Words: The Value of Consultation
Words are the bridge between the innermost essence of each being with others around them. It is impossible to truly know others without words. They embody the thoughts that stem from each being and bear the potential to unify minds and hearts.
While traditional families reminiscent of the old world relied on authoritarian and patriarchal pronouncements, in the new world, everyone has the right to expression. In fact, we are gradually learning that it is only through confluence of expressions that reality manifests itself and the path to action is paved with wholehearted participation leading to greater prosperity. They key is to ensure our consultations rely on two pillars of honesty and love. In other words, our exchanges must not only convey, but also encourage honesty and love in one another, so that our respect for each other grows and develops uninterrupted.
Thanks to the rise of social media and an overindulgence in boundless expression, we are also learning the manner in which expression is most conducive to progress and peace. What guarantees this process is consultation. Proponents of consultation agree that when one engages in expression it cannot be voiced as the right answer, but as a contribution to reaching it. We must evaluate our contributions to consultation based on whether it advances everyone engaged in it or not. Equal participation in consultation is a guarantor of maintaining a peaceful, successful, healthy and united family. By extension, consultation facilitates agency in each individual. It enables all to become part of the process of reaching the heart of the matter and the subsequent course of action.
Much like the rays of the sun, every contribution to consultation bears some aspect of reality; it is only when they all come together that the light of the reality in each given situation brightens the path to action.
Equality of Action: The Value of Collaboration
Although the capitalist church of self-adulation may deny it, human history is a testament to the fact that “no man is an island”. In reality, each individual is the result of two others coming together. The very essence of life is about varied elements merging as one. We see this at every level of existence. The family is no exception to this rule. It is by definition a unit born out of individuals weaving together essential, and hopefully, lasting ties.
With the dynamics that encircle the life of millennials, our world is moving towards an era where individual merit lies in being a source of social good. Having a sense of meaning, a purposeful life, an appreciation for integration and developing one’s potentials are replacing their parents’ love for mere material accumulation. The new generation is coming to realise that the ever-advancing civilisation relies on each of us playing our role in our own way, whether famed or unsung, public or private, decorated or unrewarded. The more we realise this organic nature of life, the more we are able to accompany each other to act in ways where we are able to become sources of social good.
The catalyst in this process is collaboration. In other words, our actions, the fruits of our thoughts and words, must not only tread our own path to good, but also accommodate others to do the same. Rights and responsibilities gain a new meaning through collaboration. They become two sides of the same coin. My rights become your responsibilities, and your rights mine. This yin and yang of action further enhances respect, trust and leads to the manifestation of those gems or unique capacities once only left as potentials within each of us. Collaboration in action among family members safeguards equality of all. Through collaboration, we each fulfil our reality, while accommodating the other to fulfil theirs. Much like instruments in an orchestra, we each act in accordance with our own rhythm, but only when in harmony do our actions result in an uplifting symphony, or peaceful family life.
The three values suggested in this brief presentation, are among many other guarantors of equality. While they may suffice as standalone factors in certain settings, within the institution of the family, and in line with the dynamics that define the new world, the three must combine through the leaven of love. In the words of Viennese poet, Peter Altenberg “For a man the whole world is his love. For a woman love is her whole world.”
Only when we accompany our thoughts, words and actions with love, will we respect, consult and collaborate in a manner where families experience and express love.
Author: Tahirih Danesh
Senior Programme Consultant, The Ward and Brown Foundation, United Kingdom
Tahirih Danesh (MA) is a human rights researcher, educator and public speaker. She has worked as an independent consultant dedicated to in-depth investigation and reporting of human rights abuses of minorities in Iran, and women in the MENA region, South Asia, the Americas and Europe. A former Honorary Fellow at the Crucible Centre for Human Rights Researcher at UK’s Roehampton University, she is the Founding Editor of Iran Human Rights Review at the UK Foreign Policy Centre, a Senior Programme Consultant at the Ward and Brown Foundation and the Executive Director of an educational foundation focused on character and civic education of young citizens.
 In the words of Pope John XXIII
 John Donne