Testes and difficulties

A booth outside the Haifa Convention Centre reminds delegates not to waste their vote
A booth outside the Haifa Convention Centre reminds delegates not to waste their vote

Umm Yasmin recently wrote about how to get on the House of Justice if you haven’t got ovaries. The issue of a male-only supreme governing body is a difficult one for me, and for many other Baha’is, I expect.

Maori communities in NZ face a similar situation. The majority of them require their members to take on roles defined by gender, particularly during formal occasions:

  • Men do carving (whakairo) and women do weaving (raranga)
  • Women do the calling on (karanga) and men do the challenge (wero)
  • Men make the speeches on official occasions (whaikorero) and women carry out the songs that intersperse the speeches (waiata).

Some Maori communities have historically allowed women to speak on official occasions, so this arrangement isn’t entirely fixed, but it is something that is tied to the traditional practice (kawa) of most communities. The problem usually comes when there are cultural differences between the various participants in an event, and those who set the kawa (the hosts) can’t figure out what takes precedence:

  • Maori communities that invite the Prime Minister to visit have to figure out whether to allow her to speak.
  • Government departments have to work out whether their sexual equality principles mean that they allow their female staff to speak
  • Baha’is running conferences along traditional Maori lines have to figure out whether the principle of the equality of women and men takes precedence, or even whether not allowing women to speak betrays that principle.

I think that a simple five-word rule should be followed, and followed consistently. The hosts set the kawa. In the three scenarios I’ve outlined, the only female who probably wouldn’t get a chance to speak is the Prime Minister.

If a Maori community has fixed roles for men and for women, I can live with that, provided that women and men are equally respected within the community. Just because there are fixed roles, it doesn’t mean that the community is going to be dysfunctional. Where there’s mutual respect between men and women, there are ways of partially circumventing the restrictions. I can live with an all-male House, too, mainly because women and men do seem to be equally respected within the community. In that environment, an all-male House is a minor aberration.

What I used to do, when faced with the fixed roles in Maori communities, was to hang out with the women and do what they were allowed to do. Maori tended not to have any problem with this, but the Baha’is or my employers sometimes got uneasy.

I don’t suppose I’m ever going to have the opportunity to decline a place on the Universal House of Justice, though!