Former US President Jimmy Carter should be enjoying retirement right about now. But instead, the 90 year old (yep, NINETY!!) has decided is not done in leadership just yet. In an interview with CNN, he revealed that for the rest of his life, he is making it his mission to fight against the injustices toward women and girls worldwide.
In 2014 he released a book titled ‘A Call To Action’ which earned him a Grammy Nomination this year for Best Spoken Word, where he outlined specific areas that he believes have become a breeding ground for gender violence: religion and politics. He writes that there have been far too many cases of women being oppressed throughout history in the name of religion and politics. He ain’t wrong there!
But there have been major news stories over the past year which have firmly reiterated why his fight is more important than ever.
“He’s doing it for the more than 200 schoolgirls abducted by the Islamist extremist group Boko Haram in Nigeria, for those who have become ISIS militants’ sex slaves and for girls everywhere who can’t go to school. He’s doing it for the estimated 160 million babies aborted or killed at birth in Asia in recent decades because they were not boys. He’s doing it for American college co-eds and women in the military who suffer rape and see the men responsible walk free,” writes Greg Botelho at CNN.
His desire to see equality around the world started while he was president of the United States in the 70s and 80s.
After his term in office, he started The Carter Center in 1982 which was founded by Jimmy and his wife Rosalynn who has been a major influence on him fighting for women’s rights.
At a recent Carter Center summit attended by women from war-torn patriarchal regions around the world and various organizations fighting for their advocacy, the group discussed specific issues like honor killings and how they can end atrocities like this.
“The more (the Carter Center was) involved in 80 different countries around the world, the more we saw clearly the most serious and unaddressed human rights abuse on Earth is among women and girls,” he told CNN. “It’s much worse than I ever dreamed it was.”
Today he sees the way certain Islamic extremists groups like Boko Haram and even some Christian sects are reluctant to view women as equals.
The messages from extremists who try to justify enslaving, kidnapping and killing girls and women may be very loud, but the Carter Center representatives say the people fighting injustice need to be just as loud. They applaud the movement that has emerged recently which is trying to enlighten Muslims on the Prophet Muhammad’s stance on gender equality.
But the former President, who was a member of the Southern Baptist denomination of the Christian church in the US, said he is less impressed with the way the Christian and Catholic church have spoken about women in leadership positions.
Mimi Haddad of Christians for Biblical Equality, a nonprofit group that bases its arguments for equal treatment of men and women on the Bible, says only a small fraction of leading evangelical theologians and pastors are women and such views can trickle down, from rationalizing violence against women to men dominating church scholarship and leadership.
Women cannot currently become Catholic priests, but if the current statements coming out of the Vatican from the Pope himself where he has challenged the existing dogmatic boundaries preventing women from having equal footing in the Catholic church and in the Catholic way of life, holding out hope for change in leadership may not be that far fetched of an idea.
“There is a very great reluctance among some Protestants, like Southern Baptists, among others, (to) treat women equally in the eyes of God,” said the former president, a longtime Sunday school teacher at a Baptist church in Plains, Georgia. “And that sends a signal that it is OK to discriminate against girls and women.”
Leadership in religion is just one of his areas of concern, the other is in politics and the trickle down effect it has on society. Currently, America is ranked 20th on the World Economic Forum’s Gender Equality index which compares men and women in health, education, economics and politics. Geez, that’s no exactly something to be proud of, especially since politicians every day claim that America is the “greatest nation on earth”, but the statistics don’t lie.
Interestingly, America is also the only industrialized nation in the world without government mandated and guaranteed maternity or paternity leave. Let’s just leave that there for you all to sink in. Now you can do the calculations yourself as to how that affects the work place and the burden placed upon men and women to hold up this economy. Doesn’t seem right, does it?
Part of the struggle to gain equality is what Jimmy calls the “power dynamic”. Historically, men have long been in control of societies around the world, and when women rise up, men may feel threatened that their stronghold is being diminished. If only they would realize it is about reaching parity and working alongside them, not trampling on top of them.
This is why movements fighting for equality must continue to speak in order for the right information to filter through. What makes this fight so personal to Jimmy is his own family: his daughters, granddaughters and great-granddaughters. He wants to do all he can to leave the world a better and more equal place for future generations.
“Anybody that has a daughter or granddaughter knows how precious that person can be. And anybody who is interested in the future of (their) country or city that if they deprive half of their own citizens of an equal right to an education or an honest job, then their whole community is going to suffer,” he said.
“That’s your children and your children’s children,” he said, arguing that everyone should be similarly compelled. “And action needs to be taken.”
Women can’t keep waiting for change. We have waited throughout all of history. Now is the time to work alongside men to push for it. If a 90-year old former US president can write books, speak at conferences, travel the world and continue raising awareness for gender equality, then none of us have an excuse.