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ETHICS AND AGENDA 21

Implementation of Agenda 21: A Bahá'í Perspective


The well-being of mankind, its peace and security are unattainable, unless and until its unity is firmly established. Bahá'u'lláh (1817-1892)

The successful execution of the programmes enunciated in Agenda 21 will greatly depend on the willingness of the peoples and nations of the world to recognise the vital link between global transformation and spiritual principles. In the Bahá'í view, "the storm battering at the foundation of society will not be stilled unless and until spiritual principles are actively engaged in the search for solutions." Primary among the spiritual principles which must guide the systematic implementation of Agenda 21 is the oneness of humanity. It is this cardinal principle that Bahá'ís believe will provide the spiritual, moral and ethical underpinnings for the successful translation of Agenda 21 into practical action in all parts of the world and at all levels of human society. The oneness of humanity, a spiritual truth which all the human sciences confirm, means more than the occasional reawakening of the spirit of brotherhood and goodwill among people. It implies an organic change in the structure of present day society. According to Bahá'í Writings the principle of the oneness of humanity, "... calls for a wider loyalty, for a larger aspiration than any that has animated the human race ... it repudiates excessive centralisation on one hand, and disclaims all attempts at uniformity on the other. Its watchword is unity in diversity."

Recognition of this principle requires the abandonment of prejudice - prejudice of every kind - race, class, colour, creed, nation, sex, degree of material civilisation, everything which enables people to see themselves as superior to others. Only through the abandonment of prejudice will people be able to work together to form the true global partnership for sustainable development called for by Agenda 21.

Chapters 23 - 32 of Agenda 21 spell out the role of all major groups and all segments of human society in creating a sustainable future. These chapters call for women, men, youth, elders, indigenous peoples, industrialists, environmentalists, educators and scientists to work together and among themselves to bring about such a future. In an increasingly interdependent global community it is important that we tap the creative talents of all peoples and enjoin their participation in decision making on many levels. Such broad participation will require the development of skills in non-adversarial decision making and will be dependent on our ability to achieve unity while at the same time fostering diversity.

Within such a framework of oneness, women will finally take their rightful place in society as equal partners with men. The institutions which emerge from such a system and the policies which they pursue will create the social, political and economic climate within which the full force of the voice of women will be able to influence the discourse on sustainable development. Only then can we begin to realise our full potential. Only then will we begin to see the emergence of a sustainable society.

According to Bahá'í teachings, universal education is another important pillar of sustainable development. It is through the education of the girl-child for example, that the full significance of the emancipation of women can be realised. Only when education is made available to all citizens can the peoples and nations of the world achieve their full potential. Bahá'ís view the educational process as the most systematic method for teaching the concept of world citizenship which is vital to advancing a sustainable civilisation.

The application of spiritual principles is exemplified by the activities of the Bahá'í Vocational Institute for Rural Women in Indore, India, a 1992 Global 500 Award recipient. By bringing together women from different castes and teaching them literacy, health principles and trades, the institute equips the women with the basic skills to effect change in their villages, and also alters the attitude towards the caste system, enabling them to appreciate and respect each other. Upon returning to their villages, the women put into practical action their newly acquired skills to better the living condition of the whole community. Since their training was grounded in the principle of unity and in the genuine appreciation for diversity, they are able to implement their programmes in such a way as to gain the respect and support of the whole community, including their former critics. These women serve as a catalyst to bring together the different segments of the society to address issues which were of vital concern to the whole community. Consequently, everyone in the community works together on literacy programmes and basic health care projects including the eradication of the Guinea worm infection which had plagued the area villages for a long time.

The spiritual principles which guided this programme were the cornerstone of its achievements. Without the principle of universal education, these women would not have learned the skills and knowledge which helped them transform themselves and their communities. Without a belief in the equality of men and women, these women would not have been encouraged to come out of their homes and contribute to the development of their villages. Without the principle of the oneness of humanity, which helped them eliminate their prejudices, these women would not have understood the necessity to consult together with women of different castes and to work together in making necessary changes which in the long run, benefited the whole society.

The systematic implementation of the programmes outlined in Agenda 21 has the potential of steering the Earth community in a beneficial direction. The actions taken as a result of these programmes should improve the living conditions of the entire world population while safeguarding the Earth's ecosystems for present and future generations. Translating the contents of Agenda 21 into practical action, however, will require a fundamental change in the values and ethics which currently govern the thoughts and actions of its peoples, nations and institutions. Consultation must replace confrontation; unity must replace divisiveness; compassion, empathy and respect for nature must replace selfishness and greed. These spiritual principles must form the core of the philosophy of human values which is to serve as the foundation of the strategy to implement Agenda 21.

The Bahá'í view on values and the UNCED process was summed up in the statement of the Bahá'í International Community read to the delegates assembled at the Earth Summit on 4 June 1992:

"The profound and far-reaching changes, the unity and unprecedented co-operation, required to reorient the world toward an environmentally sustainable and just future, will only be possible by touching the human spirit, by appealing to those universal values which alone can empower individuals and peoples to act in accordance with long-term interests of the planet and humanity as a whole. Once tapped, this powerful and dynamic source of individual and collective motivation will release such a profound and salutary spirit among the peoples of the earth that no power will be able to resist its unifying force ... The fundamental spiritual truth of our age is the oneness of humanity. Universal acceptance of this principle - with its implications for social and economic justice, universal participation in non-adversarial decision making, peace and collective security, equality of the sexes, and universal education - will make possible the reorganisation and administration of the world as one country, the home of humankind."


Article written by Peter Adriance



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