It is a crisis that manifests itself across the world in the form of child marriage, unequal pay, female genital mutilation, human trafficking, and more. It is the most serious challenge facing our world today: the subjugation and abuse of women and girls.
That’s according to Jimmy Carter in his new book which hits shelves Tuesday, “A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power.”
In it, the 39th President writes of his belief that “the most serious and unaddressed worldwide challenge is the deprivation and abuse of women and girls.”
Publisher Simon & Schuster said the former president’s travels around the world – he has visited 145 countries – inspired the book and the call to action it advocates.
“Around the world, [Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter] have seen inequality rising rapidly with each passing decade," said the publisher. "This is true in both rich and poor countries, and among the citizens within them. Carter draws upon his own experiences and the testimony of courageous women from all regions and all major religions to demonstrate that women around the world, more than half of all human beings, are being denied equal rights. This is an informed and passionate charge about a devastating effect on economic prosperity and unconscionable human suffering. It affects us all."
Carter covers a lot of ground in his latest book, from problems in his own Southern Baptist denomination regarding women in leadership roles to the litany of abuses women suffer in settings around the world, including sexual assault in the military, rape, lack of education and equal pay, the genocide of female fetuses, female genital mutilation, honor killings, “dowry deaths,” sex trafficking, and more.
Fans of Carter who applaud the former leader’s fearlessness in staking unpopular claims – he has publicly criticized Israel’s foreign and domestic policy and has also defended NSA leaker Edward Snowden – won’t be disappointed here.
The 89-year-old author wasn’t shy about pinning blame for the subjugation and abuse of women.
The problem, according to the avowed Baptist? Religion.
The abuse of women worldwide is “largely caused by a false interpretation of carefully selected religious texts and a growing tolerance of violence and warfare, unfortunately following the example set during my lifetime by the United States,” Carter says in “A Call to Action.”
Speaking with National Public Radio, he explained how verses from the Bible can be used to argue both for the equality and inferiority of women.
He cited St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians in which he says “there’s no difference between Jews and gentiles ... male and female ... slaves and masters. That all of us are equal in the eyes of God.”
Another letter to Corinthians states “women should not adorn themselves, that women should not speak openly in church and that wives should be subservient to their husbands.”
“So you can pick out individual verses throughout the Bible that shows that the verse favors your particular preference, and the fact that the Catholic Church, for instance, prohibits women from serving as priests or even deacons gives a kind of a permission to male people all over the world, that, well, if God thinks that women are inferior, I'll treat them as inferiors. If she's my wife, I can abuse her with impunity, or if I'm an employer, I can pay my female employees less salary.”
The problem lies not only with Christianity, he says, but many of the world’s major religions.
Religious texts are interpreted "almost exclusively by powerful male leaders within the Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and other faiths, to proclaim the lower status of women and girls,” Carter writes in the book. “This claim that women are inferior before God spreads to the secular world to justify gross and sustained acts of discrimination and violence against them.”
Not surprisingly, the book – one of more than 20 Carter has written – has already attracted positive reviews.
“It should not only be required reading in America, but should also serve as the template for a complete reinterpretation of the religious views behind our treatment of each other," writes the Pittsburgh Post Gazette.
The book "reinforces [Carter's] dedication to wiping out injustice – and his ability to move others to join his cause,” writes the St. Louis Post Dispatch.
For his part, Carter is urging readers to understand the gravity of the problem of female abuse and subjugation, a crisis he has said is the world’s most pressing issue today – and one not limited to women.
"This is not just a women's issue. It is not confined to the poorest countries. It affects us all."
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.