Book Review: Jimmy Carter’s “A Call To Action”

I was very excited to hear about Jimmy Carter’s new book, “A Call To Action: Women, Religion, Violence and Power.”  It took me a few weeks to get it from my local library, as seven others had reserved it before me.  So I just spent the past week devouring it.  Wow, this is an important read!  Click this link to purchase on Amazon.


President Carter’s book is a “call to action” to reverse the widespread gender violence that is a result of patriarchal systems that devalue women, an epidemic touching every nation.  He makes a case that denying women equal rights has a devastating effect on economic prosperity and causes unconscionable human suffering that affects us all.

The world’s discrimination and violence against women and girls is the most serious, pervasive, and ignored violation of basic human rights…Women are deprived of equal opportunity in wealthier nations and “owned” by men in others, forced to suffer servitude, child marriage, and genital cutting.  The most vulnerable, along with their children, are trapped in war and violence…A Call to Action addresses the suffering inflicted upon women by a false interpretation of carefully selected religious texts and a growing tolerance of violence and warfare.  Key verses are often omitted or quoted out of context by male religious leaders to exalt the status of men and exclude women.  And in nations that accept or even glorify violence, this perceived inequality becomes the basis for abuse. [dust-jacket description]

President Carter dedicated this book to Karin Ryan, “and the countless women and girls whose abuse and deprivation she strives to alleviate.”  I Googled her name and discovered that she is the Senior Project Advisor for the Human Rights Program of The Carter Center.  I love the center’s tagline: “Waging Peace.  Fighting Disease.  Building Hope.”  In reading this book, I was amazed to learn of all that President Carter has done through his foundation to combat disease and suffering.  He is a truly great man and was well deserving of his 2002 Nobel Peace Prize.  Through his work with The Carter Center, President Jimmy Carter (90 years old!) and his wife Rosalynn have travelled to 145 countries and there are active projects going on today in half of them, all to advance human rights.

A true partnership - President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn work hand-in-hand through the Carter Center.

A true partnership – President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn work hand-in-hand through the Carter Center.

Stemming from his life-experience as a world leader and devout Christian and an activist for human rights, it is President Carter’s belief 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 a growing tolerance of violence and warfare, unfortunately following the example set during my lifetime by the United States.”  The result is the justification of “gross and sustained acts of discrimination and violence…[that] includes unpunished rape and other sexual abuse, infanticide of newborn girls and abortion of female fetuses, a worldwide trafficking in women and girls, and so-called honor killings of innocent women who are raped, as well as the less violent but harmful practices of lower pay and fewer promotions for women and greater political advantages for men” (pgs. 3-4).

With the adoption of visionary standards of peace and human rights, President Carter believes we should have advanced much farther than we have in equal rights for women and in seeing a decline in gender-based crimes.  In June 2013, The Carter Center hosted a Human Rights Defenders Forum with leaders who are working to align religious life with the advancement of women’s and girl’s equal rights.  And he wrote A Call to Action in the hope that world leaders will adopt the advancement of equal rights for women and girls as a top priority.  This book is dense with statistics, stories and arguments that will convince you that President Carter is right about this sad reality in our world.  I’ll leave you with some of the fantastic quotes that are scattered throughout the book from leaders who were at the Human Rights Defenders Forum.  Please pick up a copy from your local library, or purchase a copy here.

War and violence against women not only have similar social, cultural, and religious supports, they are mutually reinforcing.  These supports allow societies to tolerate conditions in which a third of women and girls can be treated violently, without mass outcry and rebellion.  When we challenge the attitudes and norms that enable violence against women, we also are helping to confront the conditions that support war.  – Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite

The principle of treating others the same way one would like to be treated is echoed in at least twelve religions of the world. ‘Others’ transcend gender, race, class, sexual orientation or caste.  Whoever and whatever the ‘other’ is, she has to be treated with dignity, kindness, love and respect.  In African communitarian spirituality, this is well expressed in the Ubuntu religious and ethical ideal of ‘I am because you are, and since we are, therefore I am’–a mandate based on the reality of our being interconnected and interdependent as creation.  Therefore pain cuased to one is pain shared by all.  – Fulata Moyo

As a “Nun on the Bus’ I heard the struggles of ordinary people.  I learned that to be pro-life (and not just pro-birth) we must create a world where all people have their basic needs met.  This is justice.  Governments hold the responsibility of enacting laws that ensure living wages and safety nets for people who fall through the cracks of the economy.  In the United States, both federal and state policy makers must end political gridlock and enact just laws that ensure that all people have access to the basics: food, shelter, education, healthcare, and living wages.  These are pro-life programs.  – Sister Simone Campbell

It’s time for all people of faith to be outraged.  It’s time for our Christian leaders to stand up and say that women, made in the very image of God, deserve better.  And it’s time for us in the faith community to acknowledge our complicity in a culture that too often not only remains silent, but also can propagate a false theology of power and dominance.  There is a growing understanding that women must be central to shaping solutions…There is a new generation of young leaders determined to ensure the bright future of all people regardless of gender.  – Jim Wallis

This is a moment of truth, and people of faith working for human rights must be honest and acknowledge the role our own leadership plays for good or ill.  We must speak out about the power of Islam to affect positive change in the lives of women, girls, and all people.  We must take responsibility to spread this message.  We should not wait for leaders to tell us, we should begin in childhood, at the grassroots, to educate our young about human rights, peach-building, and coexistence.  By raising the voices of the voiceless, here we become a chorus and in sharing our ideas we support each other’s efforts to advance the course of human rights around the world.  – Alhaji Khuzaima

If the [developing] world was a molecule put under a powerful microscope, we would see a complex web of barriers that keep women from fully realizing their inherent human rights and living in dignity.  Strands of this web include barriers to securing property rights; pursuing an education and earning a decent living at fair wages; making decisions about love, sex, and marriage; controlling one’s reproduction; and obtaining health care.  We would also see the invisible DNA that keeps this web intact: a sense of powerlessness, enforced by social coercion, rigid gender roles, homophobia, violence, and rape.  Finally, we also would see that only the women who face these barriers can push them aside, change their own lives, and transform the societies in which they live.  IT is our obligation to support them.  – Ruth Messinger

President Carter ends his book with a 23 point Call to Action, and asks that we participate in these efforts through

  1. Encourage women and girls, including those not abused, to speak out more forcefully.  It is imperative that those who do speak out are protected from retaliation.
  2. Remind political and religious leaders of the abuses and what they can do to alleviate them.
  3. Encourage these same leaders to become supporters of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and other UN agencies that advance human rights and peace.
  4. Encourage religious and political leaders to relegate warfare and violence to a last resort as a solution to terrorism and national security challenges.
  5. Abandon the death penalty and seek to rehabilitate criminals instead of relying on excessive incarceration, especially for non-violent offenders.
  6. Marshall the efforts of women officeholders and first ladies, and encourage involvement of prominent civilian women in correcting abuses.
  7. Induce individual nations to elevate the end of human trafficking to a top priority, as they did to end slavery in the nineteenth century.
  8. Help remove commanding officers from control over cases of sexual abuse in the military so that professional prosecutors can take action.
  9. Apply Title IX protection for women students and evolve laws and procedures in all nations to reduce the plague of sexual abuse on university campuses.
  10. Include women’s rights specifically in new UN Millennium Development Goals.
  11. Expose and condemn infanticide of baby girls and selective abortion of female fetuses.
  12. Explore alternatives to battered women’s shelters, such as installing GPS locators on male abusers, and make police reports of spousal abuse mandatory.
  13. Strengthen UN and other legal impediments to ending genital mutilation, child marriage, trafficking, and other abuses of girls and women.
  14. Increase training of midwives and other health workers to provide care at birth.
  15. Help scholars working to clarify religious beliefs on protecting women’s rights and nonviolence, and give activists and practitioners access to such training resources.
  16. Insist that the US Senate ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.
  17. Insist that the United States adopt the International Violence Against Women Act.
  18. Encourage more qualified women to seek public office, and support them.
  19. Recruit influential men to assist in gaining equal rights for women.
  20. Adopt the Swedish model by prosecuting pimps, brother owners, and male customers, not the prostitutes.
  21. Publicize and implement UN Security Resolution 1325, which encourages the participation of women in peace efforts.
  22. Publicize and implement UN Security Resolution 1820, which condemns the use of sexual violence as a tool of war.
  23. Condemn and outlaw honor killings.

I also enjoyed this review from The Independent, and this interview on NPR.

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4 responses to “Book Review: Jimmy Carter’s “A Call To Action”

  1. Much of what President Carter has said is good and even excellent. But to throw in the anti-capitol punishment barb is unnecessary and as a Christian he should know it is anti-Biblical.


  2. Thanks for visiting the blog, Jedidiah! I hope you read “A Call to Action” sometime, it was truly remarkable.

    I’d like to share this article with you by Shane Claiborne regarding the death penalty. There are Christians who believe strongly both ways, and this article does a good job of explaining the perspective of Christians who believe capitol punishment is unchristian.


  3. Pingback: The Beauty of Womanhood | The Beautiful Kingdom Warriors

  4. The progression for gender equality is taking too long. You can be president of the United States but not a priest in the Catholic church or a deacon in the Mormon church. The leadership of mainline churches continues the obvert discrimintation against women. This dicrimination is particularly egregious as it condones a message of inferiourity. Carter highlights this terrible religious folly and submits it must share some blame for the continual and abject violence agaist women. “It’s time for all people of faith to be outraged. It’s time for our Christian leaders to stand up and say that women, made in the very image of God, deserve better. And it’s time for us in the faith community to acknowledge our complicity in a culture that too often not only remains silent, but also can propagate a false theology of power and dominance.” This complicity is dastardly cowardice on the part of religious leaders around the world in my opinion.


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