As the recent kidnapping of the 200 Nigerian schoolgirls show, gender discrimination and violence against women and girls is still an issue that pundits, theorists, and activists are trying to unknot. Corrective rape, female genital mutilation, gender pay discrimination, spousal abuse, lack of access to education, political power, and quality healthcare are just some of the issues that former President Jimmy Carter addresses in his new – and most powerful book – A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power. As a political figure who is also very religious, Carter has an interesting take on the issue of global feminism. Instead of just focusing on the political, he also looks at the spiritual, and takes to task the many religious-based forms of discrimination that victimizes women – and he doesn’t just focus on the usual target (Islam), but also is very candid about his own Christian faith, that often fails spectacularly when it comes to women’s rights.
Because of his views on liberalism, neo-liberalism, war, and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, as well as his oft-perceived failed presidency , many will dismiss Carter and his writing on the spot. That would be a mistake because even if one disagrees with much of what Carter believes, it’s difficult to disagree that the issue of global women’s rights isn’t important. He writes from his experiences as president and also as a roving statesman, who’s visited many countries throughout the world. He includes personal anecdotes – some about his family and some about his time in office – but he also moves away from his first-hand encounters with the effects of sexism, and looks at more global concerns – he talks about child brides, women in war, victims of honor killings – he even goes into the death penalty and the over incarceration of people of color, and how those problems hurt women. He links the punitive criminal justice system and its emphasis on punishment rather than rehabilitation to the normalization of gender violence – his argument being that if society normalizes violence, particularly if its sources are institutions of power and authority, then it stands to reason that this kind of acceptance of violence and dehumanization will trickle down to all aspects of life, including interactions between men and women. It’s a novel idea, but one that makes sense when Carter supports its claim with examples in his own life and work of interacting with convicts and spouses of convicts, where he sees first-hand how cyclical and defeating the criminal justice system can be. And though some of his critics will label him as “soft” on crime, instead, I prefer to see his approach as holistic, with a long-term view of the future.
As evident by my review, his scope is wide, and his concern encompasses almost every conceivable form of gender violence we write about. But his ambitious thesis doesn’t feel stretched or overtaxed – in fact, Carter’s grasp of the issues gives him an authority and it supports his claims and arguments – mainly that the global community cannot sustain itself in the 21st century if it continues to subjugate and oppress roughly half the world’s population.
A Call to Action isn’t the definitive book on global women’s rights or global feminism, but its author is a much-needed voice. His call to action includes a deep examination of male privilege in all of its forms (whether it manifests itself in politics, religion, education, or in the home), and ultimately, a dismantling of that privilege. The book often takes on faith, because it’s a leading force of most cultures and societies in our worlds, and he unpacks a lot of traditional misogyny that is often supported by religious leaders; he examines scripture from various major religions to see how holy texts have been used to justify gender discrimination. Carter wrote A Call to Action to highlight a problem he sees as crippling to the international community’s ongoing progress. He urges religious leaders and citizens to end gender discrimination. It’s a daunting challenge, one that feels especially difficult when reading the different ways in which various societies abuse women, but as Carter writes “there is a pervasive denial of equal rights to women, more than half of all human beings, and this discrimination results in tangible harm to all of us, male and female.”
Click here to buy Jimmy Carter’s A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power on amazon.com.