Soka Gakkai International
Buddhism in Action for Peace
History & Philosophy
Stories and reflections on the Buddhist approach to life
Section ten of ten of SGI President Daisaku Ikeda’s 2017 peace proposal, “The Global Solidarity of Youth: Ushering In a New Era of Hope.”
The final theme I would like to discuss is the importance of gender equality, something that is deeply relevant to constructing a culture of human rights. Gender equality is the assurance of the equal rights, responsibilities and opportunities of women and men and girls and boys, without discrimination.
The goal is, as UN Women emphasizes, to create a society in which the interests, needs and priorities of both women and men are valued, and the diversity of different groups is recognized. One of the SDGs is the achievement of gender equality everywhere on Earth and the elimination of all forms of discrimination by 2030.
The goal is to create a society in which the interests, needs and priorities of both women and men are valued, and the diversity of different groups is recognized.
A record number of more than 80 government ministers and 4,100 representatives of international civil society attended last year’s session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW60) held from March 14–24, providing further evidence of the growing recognition of the importance of this task. In addition to taking part in the sessions, the SGI held a parallel event under the theme “Women’s Leadership Paving the Way to Achieving the SDGs.”
At this event, it was reaffirmed that gender inequality is a major human rights challenge and that progress in this regard will contribute to the achievement of all the other SDGs.
Gender equality can play an essential role in the Nexus Approach, which I discussed earlier, for promoting all of the SDGs in an integrated fashion.
Recognition by the world’s governments of the importance of gender equality dates back at least to the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. A further turning point was the adoption of Resolution 1325 on women and peace and security by the UN Security Council in October 2000. This resolution urges the equal participation and full involvement of women in all aspects of the maintenance and promotion of peace and security and calls for the adoption of concrete measures to that end.
Former UN Under-Secretary-General Anwarul K. Chowdhury, who played a pivotal role in the adoption of Resolution 1325, told me over the course of our dialogue of the “conceptual and political breakthrough” that made this possible.
He explained that this breakthrough took the form of a statement issued by the UN Security Council on March 8, 2000, International Women’s Day. The statement noted the inextricable link between peace and gender equality, transforming the impression of women as helpless victims of wars and conflicts into a recognition that they are “essential for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security.” This paradigm shift led to the adoption of Resolution 1325, opening a sure path for the greater participation of women in peace processes.
A review into the implementation status of the resolution that issued its report in October 2015 concluded that the participation of women enhances the likelihood of the success and durability of peace processes. It also noted the key role of women in gaining the trust of the local population in the course of UN peacekeeping activities.
Governments have begun developing and implementing policies toward the achievement of the gender equality goal of the SDGs. It is important now to recall the conceptual breakthrough that initially led to the adoption of Resolution 1325: in other words, to reconfigure societies based on the recognition that women are not helpless victims but that their strengths and contributions are essential.
In this regard, Dr. Sarah Wider, former president of the Ralph Waldo Emerson Society and Women’s Studies scholar, shared the following with me during one of our exchanges.
“No one should be taking a back seat to anyone. We should all be sitting together, listening, talking, and respecting the contributing work each person has to offer.”
Recent research has highlighted the contribution of a group of female delegates at the 1945 San Francisco conference where the UN Charter was drafted in inscribing “the equal rights of men and women” in the Preamble.
Many of the participants at the conference called for the inclusion of clear provisions regarding human rights. A number of women from Latin American countries, however, brought to the conference’s attention the inadequacy of the reference to “equal rights of individuals,” the term initially used during the drafting process.
They were successful not only in enshrining the equal rights of women and men in the Preamble, but also in including language promoting and encouraging respect for human rights without distinction as to sex (Article 1) and the equal eligibility of men and women to participate throughout the UN system (Article 8).
This episode brings to mind a story from the Lotus Sutra. The sutra, which teaches the supreme dignity and worth of all people, uses the concrete example of a young woman fully manifesting her inherent dignity to illustrate this.
related article Restoring Hope in the Lives of Refugees Work and education are vital for dignity. Developing an aid architecture to enable displaced persons to work in fields that contribute to enhancing resilience and promoting the SDGs would help solve humanitarian challenges and protect human dignity. After Shakyamuni finishes expounding the principle that all people possess an incomparable inner worth, Bodhisattva Wisdom Accumulated, feeling that this important teaching is over, seeks to return home. However, he is prompted by Shakyamuni to stay behind to debate and discuss the teachings he has heard with a bodhisattva named Manjushri.
Wisdom Accumulated is told by Manjushri that the eight-year-old daughter of the dragon king had manifested a life state of ultimate dignity (enlightenment) and was filled with a profound compassion for other people. Wisdom Accumulated finds this impossible to believe. It is then that the dragon king’s daughter appears before him. Upon seeing the young dragon girl, it is Shakyamuni’s disciple Shariputra who is next in voicing his doubts.
The dragon girl takes up a jewel that the sutra explains is proof of this ultimately dignified state of life, and offers it to Shakyamuni. She then turns and exhorts Shariputra to witness the true brilliance of her life. Seeing her dedicate herself to helping others, Wisdom Accumulated and Shariputra are finally convinced that Manjushri’s words had indeed been true.
I believe that this story illustrates how a merely abstract understanding cannot bring about the realization of the dignity and worth of all people.
Nichiren comments on the dragon girl’s exhortation to Shariputra to witness her enlightenment as follows:
“When the dragon girl says, ‘Watch me attain Buddhahood,’ Shariputra thinks she is referring only to her own attainment of Buddhahood, but this is an error. She is rebuking him by saying, ‘Watch how one attains Buddhahood.’”
In this way, Nichiren stresses the inseparable connection between the dragon girl realizing the full dignity of her life and Shariputra doing the same. Through acknowledging and coming to respect the supreme dignity and worth of the dragon girl, who represents all women, Shariputra, who represents all men, comes to fully realize his inner dignity in its fullness.
This concrete portrayal of the inherent dignity of women gives substance to and fully authenticates the principle of the dignity of all people. In the same way, the fact that the rights of women were inscribed in the Charter enabled the spirit of human rights to take particularly clear form at the UN.
I am sure that the group of women who spoke out at the San Francisco conference in 1945 were acting on the conviction that building a society that truly upholds the rights of all people would only be possible if women’s rights were given explicit recognition.
UN Women has initiated the HeForShe Movement, a global effort to incorporate the involvement of men and boys in the struggle to achieve gender equality. It is unacceptable for anyone to be deprived of their rights and freedoms, and we must work to ensure that all people in all their diversity are free to enjoy their rights.
The goal of gender equality is to open the path for all people, irrespective of gender, to bring forth the light of their inner dignity and humanity in a way that is true to their own unique self.
The SGI, with youth at the center of our movement, will further strive to expand the solidarity of people united in the cause of building a culture of human rights. Sounding the bell of hope for humanity, we will continue to work toward creating a society where no one is left behind.