The year is 1922. In Karachi, the Islamic centre of British India, a 17-year-old woman is stepping up to the stage of the Town Hall when the audience rushes forward. Fearing for her safety, she retreats behind a curtain. It takes the mayor to reassure her that the people are simply keen to hear what she has to say. When she returns to begin her lecture, she becomes possibly the first woman to address a public gathering in the East, the first of countless lectures on countless stages around the world at which this courageous woman’s concern for gender equality will win over the hearts and minds of an audience.
The principle of social justice was instilled into Shirin Behjat from the earliest age. She was born into a Persian Baha’i family in Bombay in 1905. At 11 months old, while the family was on pilgrimage, Shirin took her very first steps grasping onto the cloak of Abdu’l-Baha; at six, during her second pilgrimage, she encountered His 14-year old grandson Shoghi Effendi. From that moment on, there would be no turning back from her commitment to the Baha’i Faith, particularly its teachings on the rights of women. “If Eve ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge first,” Shirin often said, “and then induced Adam also to taste of it, did that not prove it was the woman who attained to knowledge first and that the first act of obedience was by man to woman and not the other way around?” Continue reading