Former President Jimmy Carter is issuing a call to action to end the abuse and subjugation of women, which he refers to as the “worst and most pervasive and unaddressed human rights violation on Earth.”
Carter issued his strong statements about gender equality in a recent interview with NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell. The former president is currently doing media appearances to promote a new book, A Call To Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power, which discusses the issue of women’s victimization around the world.
There’s significant data to back up his claims. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that one in three women around the world is subject to sexual violence at some point in her life. In many parts of the world, women still aren’t receiving adequate health care and education. Every year, about 14 million girls under the age of 18 are given away as child brides, and an additional 4 million women and girls are bought and sold into slavery. And according to the United Nations, at least 125 million girls in Africa and the Middle East have undergone female genital mutilation.
In his book, set to be released on Tuesday, Carter argues that conservative faith leaders have indirectly contributed to the ongoing violence against women by furthering a society that allows inequality to flourish.
“Religious leaders say women are inferior in the eyes of God, which is a false interpretation of the Holy Scriptures. When [people] see the Pope, the Southern Baptist Convention, and others say that women can’t serve as priests equally with men, they say well, I’ll treat my wife the way I want to because she’s inferior to me,” Carter told NBC News.
Carter and his wife Rosalynn decided to leave their conservative Southern Baptist church because the denomination refuses to ordain women as pastors and believes that wives should remain submissive to their husbands. “I understand that the carefully selected verses found in the Holy Scriptures to justify the superiority of men owe more to time and place — and the determination of male leaders to hold onto their influence — than eternal truths. Similar Biblical excerpts could be found to support the approval of slavery and the timid acquiescence to oppressive rulers,” Carter wrote at the time, arguing that the Bible can also be interpreted to support gender equality. The couple now attends a more moderate Baptist church that has a female pastor.
In an interview with NPR, Carter explained that he’s written to Pope Francis to challenge him on the Catholic Church’s official policy on women in leadership roles. He’s not optimistic that anything will change anytime soon. “But at least the pope, the new pope, is aware of it and is much more amenable, I think, to some changes than maybe some of — or most of — his predecessors,” he said.
Carter’s book makes the case that the United States is at least partly responsible for perpetrating the ongoing violence against women around the globe, since the U.S. wields such great international influence. The former president also sees issues of violence and abuse occurring within America’s borders, particularly as the issue of properly handling sexual assault causes on college campuses and military bases has recently come to a head.
“Exactly the same thing happens in universities in America that happens in the military. Presidents of universities and colleges and commanding officers don’t want to admit that, under their leadership, sexual abuse is taking place,” Carter noted. “Rapists prevail because they know they’re not going to be reported.”