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Jimmy Carter writes ‘most important book’ on women’s rights

Wed, Apr 30, 2014

Former President Jimmy Carter’s respect for women was already established by the time of his first business venture at age 6. His father allowed him to go into a field on their Georgia peanut farm and pull up 10 pounds of peanut plants by their roots. He washed away the dirt, soaked the pods overnight in salty water and boiled the peanuts, then divided them into 20 small bags and toted them two miles to the town of Plains, where he sold them for a nickel a package.

The young Carter, who will be 90 years old next October, went in and out of grocery stores, blacksmith shops, stables, the post office and farm warehouses until he sold all the peanuts. Ignored by older men, he heard all the town gossip: who was unfaithful, who frequented whorehouses in the next town, even that many of these white men preferred black women, despite the taboos of the era.

“I began to realize for the first time that I lived in a community where our Bible lessons were interpreted to accommodate the customs and ethical standards that were most convenient,” Carter wrote in A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence and Power, his latest book released March 25 (Simon & Schuster). “… rationalization is a human trait, of which we are all guilty at times.”

Some Bible verses can be interpreted in sexist terms – or not — Carter notes in A Call to Action. But Jesus had no double standard. He always treated women as equal to men, he wrote.

As examples, he cites Christ’s conversation at the well with a Samaritan woman and his refusal to stone a woman accused of adultery. Islamic scholars likewise told Carter there is no basis for discrimination in the Koran.

10009854_10152020844743657_1765910315_nAll major faiths contain the essence of justice, peace and compassion, he notes in A Call to Action. Yet biased interpretation — or the desire to maintain power over women — can twist their meaning. And that is the reason that leaders of various faiths –Protestant, Catholic, Coptic, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu and tribal – urged him to write the book, based partly on his travels since his 1977-1981 U.S. presidency.

In 1982 Carter founded the nonpartisan and nonprofit Carter Center, which he still leads and which focuses on national and international issues of public policy such as the effort to eradicate Guinea worm disease, caused by parasites in drinking water. He and the Carter Center have mediated conflicts in Africa, South America and the Middle East and sent 96 election-observation missions to South America, Africa and Asia. In 2002 Carter received the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to expand democracy and human rights and to promote economic and social development.

“I have become convinced that the most serious and unaddressed worldwide challenge is the deprivation and abuse of women and girls, largely caused by a false interpretation of carefully selected religious texts and growing tolerance of violence and warfare,” Carter writes in the book, which draws on his work with the Carter Center. Besides infanticide and forced marriage, Carter discusses slavery, genital cutting, rape, honor killings, economic and social deprivation.

“This is the most important book I have ever written,” Carter told media March 27 at a signing organized Simon & Schuster with Women & Children First Bookstore at the Swedish American Museum in Andersonville. “More than twice as many girls have been killed by their parents during my lifetime as the total number of combatants and civilians lost in World War II, it’s in the book,” he said.

Selective abortion of girls is the reason why 160 million girls are “missing” in China, India, Vietnam, South Korea, Albania and other countries, Carter wrote, as he cited Mara Hvistendahl’s Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls and the Consequences of a World Full of Men. Disproportionate numbers of women, meanwhile, result in fewer women for men to marry, which means that they are more likely to seek sexual gratification from prostitutes or mail-order brides. In South Korea, for example, 12 percent of the men marry women from economically less advantaged nations such as Vietnam, Cambodia and the Philippines. Their parents are often happy for the money – and one less mouth to feed.

Forced marriage, forced labor and involuntary prostitution account for 29.8 million people enslaved around the world today, according to last October’s Global Slavery Index, Carter writes. There are 13.96 million people living in bondage in India, (1.1 percent of the nation’s population) and 2.94 million in China, but also 60,000 in the United States.

The U.S. State Department estimates that of 800,000 people traded across international borders annually, 80 percent are women and girls; 3 out of 4 of them are sold into the sex trade. Carter also quotes Siddharth Kara, a Tennessee businessman born in India who heads Free the Slaves, that a prostitute acquired for $1,000 in Asia or $2,000 to $8,000 in Western Europe and North America will net annual profit of $29,000 to his or her captors.

The best way to combat the sex trade is to penalize male customers and pimps, Carter writes, based on Kara’s advice and policy in Sweden. The number of sex workers there dropped 40 percent in five years after legislation made it illegal to buy sexual services, to act as a pimp or to operate a brothel; prostitutes, meanwhile, were not considered to be acting illegally.

Legalizing prostitution in the Netherlands, on the other hand, meant that Eastern European crime syndicates have taken over sex trafficking and the drug trade, he wrote. The Dutch government is trying to move the women into other jobs.

Carter also discussed sexual harassment and rape in the U.S. military: 26,000 cases of unwanted sexual contact in 2012, up from 19,000 two years earlier, according to the Department of Defense. However, only 3,200 assaults were reported and 300 prosecuted. He also cites a National Public Radio survey of female veterans in which 30 percent said they had been raped while in the service and a 2004 survey of female veterans seeking help for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in which 71 percent said they had been assaulted or raped while serving.

A former midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy and an officer on nuclear submarines, Carter asserts that commanding officers must be removed from control over sexual abuse cases in the military so that professional prosecutors can take over.

“We can only imagine how much worse the situation can be in nations where women are officially derogated and where civil war zones are known to be completely lawless,” he writes.

Women and children suffer most when there is war, famine, poverty or disease, he notes, because men and boys get first priority. “In addition to the unconscionable human suffering almost embarrassing to acknowledge, there is a devastating effect on economic prosperity caused by the lack of contributions of at least half the human beings on Earth. This is not just a women’s issue. It is not confined to the poorest countries. It affects us all.”

A better alternative, he argues, is to enhance the value of women’s lives through education. Women are the change agents for the health of their families, he noted. He described how the Carter Center empowered Ethiopian women to combat blinding trachoma.

The disease is one Carter knew from his childhood, because flies from farm manure swarm children’s eyes seeking moisture. The resulting infection turns eyelids inward, scratching the cornea with every blink. The Carter Center trained women in a World Health Organization-recommended program that uses the acronym “SAFE;” women were trained to perform simple eyelid Surgeries, to administer Antibiotics and to encourage Face washing. All that remained was to alter the Environment. In the past, people had relieved themselves behind a bush; construction of 2.9 million latrines reduced the fly population.

Photo: 2014 David L. Spearman/DV and Associates

Photo: 2014 David L. Spearman/DV and Associates

“I am proud of my growing reputation as the world’s most preeminent sponsor of latrines,” he wrote.

Carter also appeared to be supremely at ease with his life during the Chicago book signing. He methodically stacked books and scrawled a recognizable “JCartr” as he slid them across the table: 1,100 books in 100 minutes, according to Linda Bubon, co-owner of the bookstore with Ann Christophersen.

Smiling often in between, he managed to look down and wave at small children and to find individualized ways to greet adults. At one slowdown, he slid his chair back from the table and announced he was going to talk to the media.

This departure from earlier plans resulted in almost sit com-like panic as the media – mostly photographers – scrambled for cell phones, tape recorders or pen and paper. Unlike podium presidential press conferences, he stood relaxed as he scanned faces and asked for questions.

Wally Johnson bought two copies of A Call to Action along with six other titles to be autographed. Johnson said he had been to Plains 10 times since the early ’80s. He has even participated in Carter’s Sunday school class – where the former President had discussed his desire to write this latest book.

“He was talking about getting more women into [leadership] of the church. The Bible and the Koran do not say that women are inferior but sometimes people in power make believe it says that for their own benefit. He’s been saying that for 25 years.

“He’s absolutely the most honest President we’ve ever had.”

Was he different from other politicians?

“Absolutely. That’s why he probably did not do that well running against Ronald Reagan. He told it the way it was.”

Suzanne Hanney
StreetWise Editor-In-Chief

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