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Women, Religion, Violence, and Power: Jimmy Carter Speaks Out

WRITTEN BY CHRIS K, AAI NEWS TEAM

Equality of the sexes, worldwide, is “the major ethical challenge of our times,” said Dr. Robert D. Finch, past president of the Humanists of Houston, at the recent American Humanist Association (AHA) meeting in Philadelphia. Finch went on to detail some of the outrageous abuses against women and girls that are encompassed in a new book by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, titled “A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power.”

In his book (published March 2014), Jimmy Carter stresses the similarity between the racial prejudice that existed in the Deep South at the time when he was a boy and the worldwide prejudice, discrimination, and violence against females as a result of religious teachings and/or political and cultural forces.

When Carter was elected governor of Georgia, he found that black women prisoners staffed the governor’s mansion. It was a terrible injustice, Carter writes.

Carter, Finch noted, wrote that the Koran does not contain passages that can be construed as religious impediments to equal political rights for women. Yet many predominantly Muslim countries base the suppression for women and girls on religious teachings.

But countries with other religious practices also encourage discrimination against women. In India and China, where boys are preferred, infanticide of baby girls is a big problem, Finch said. Globally, there are slightly more females to males, but the ratio of girls to boys in China is 100 to 118, and in India it’s 100 to 112.

Choosing boys over girls has been termed “unnatural selection” by Mara Hvistendahl in her 2012 Pulitzer Prize finalist book of the same name. Hvistendahl notes that “over 160 million females are ‘missing’ from Asia’s population – more than the entire female population of the United States.”

Rape and War

In “A Call to Action,” Carter explains that women are disproportionately executed for crimes such as adultery, refusing an arranged marriage, and apostasy. Ninety percent of executions worldwide take place in China, Iran, Russia, and the U.S. The book discusses how rape is commonly used as a weapon in war. In fact, The Democratic Republic of the Congo, which has been fighting wars for the last twenty years, is the most dangerous place for women and girls. It is described as the rape capital of the world. One study estimated that approximately 1.6 to 1.8 million Congolese women have been raped in their lifetime.  

In 2013, one hospital in eastern Congo reported treating 300 rape survivors a month and one soldier commented, "Raping gives us a lot of pleasure. When we rape we feel free."

It is not just Africa that has staggering rates of rape or sexual violence. College campuses in the U.S. have recently come under fire for not being transparent regarding sexual safety on campus. The truth is that nearly one in four women will experience rape or sexual violence while in college, and one in three sexual assaults are committed by student athletes, according to Finch.

In detailing the contents of “A Call to Action,” Finch also noted that:

  • Women comprise 85% of the victims of domestic homicide in the U.S., which totaled 10,600 from 2000-2006.
  • Nearly 3,000 honor killings occurred in the U.K. in 2010.
  • 12.5 million women and girls are currently enslaved worldwide, many forced to work as prostitutes.
  • South Asia has seen a 48% increase in child bride killings by greedy husbands who want more money or are unsatisfied with their bride, and the rates in the Middle East and North Africa have increased by 18%.

Finch said that much of the information presented in the book is not new. “The big impact, however, is to read it in one book and realize that none of it is being dealt with,” he said.

The final chapter in Carter’s book contains recommendations for stopping the violence against women and girls, most of which require legislation, Finch concluded.