Book review

Jimmy Carter's 'A Call to Action': Women's rights are universal

A tour de force of the global abuse and manipulation of women, including statistics that will stun with details that cannot be ignored

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"Women hold up half the sky." -- Mao Zedong

In "A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power," former President Jimmy Carter not only appeals to a moral necessity for improving the lives of women, here and abroad, but to a practical reason as well -- this "man's world" would collapse without the contribution of women.

By Jimmy Carter
Simon & Schuster ($25)

Mr. Carter has presented a tour de force of the global abuse and manipulation of women, including statistics that will stun most readers with details that cannot be ignored. More importantly, he makes the argument that the treatment of women in world societies cannot and should not be justified by religious texts or appeals to ancestral tradition.

Coming from a "Sunday school teacher," the book is designed to shock us into the reality that the social creation of gender roles is not "the divine will." Rather, gender roles are the result of human social control, greed, power politics and the continued pursuit of sexual gratification that blames all women for the crime of seducing men.

The chapters are interspersed with stories of growing up in Georgia, as well as his experiences as a peanut farmer, a U.S. Navy officer, a state senator, governor, president and a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. But the book highlights the work of the Carter Center, founded in 1982, to advance human rights and to alleviate global suffering. The center observes international elections, holds workshops in democracy and annual human rights conferences, mediates conflicts, sponsors numerous health programs and training, strengthens agricultural production and promotes education on mental illness.

It is through all of these programs that Mr. Carter has used his connections and experience with world leaders to influence policy changes. His work is not without controversy -- funding from Saudi Arabia is criticized. Nevertheless, Mr. Carter openly admits that he will work with any regime to extract the most good when it comes to promoting education that will benefit all members of society.

The scope of the material is astounding. He begins with the problems in his own denomination concerning women in leadership roles in the church (he and his wife, Rosalyn, left the Southern Baptist Convention in 2009 over this issue), and then outlines the litany of abuse that women suffer, often through the misplaced and misinterpreted concepts that are based in various religious worldviews: women in prisons, sexual assaults and rape, sexual assaults in the military, women victims of war, lack of education and the spread of diseases, the genocide of girl fetuses, female circumcision (genital cutting), slavery, the spread of AIDS in Africa, honor killings, "dowry deaths" and sex trafficking.

While tracking global problems, Mr. Carter consistently brings the horrors home as he includes similar domestic cases and highlights several U.N. resolutions that Congress has failed to ratify because such resolutions may promote abortions or contraception education.

The book concludes with a "wish list" of changes that he hopes to generate through the publicity of this book, including some policies that are already in place but remain unenforced. Almost all of these problems can be addressed through education, but the education of men should be a priority, as men continue to dominate parliaments and ruling parties.

Teaching young women how to remain "safe" will never be sufficient until we also educate our young men to avoid the attitudes and behaviors that lead to sexual assault and "date rape," a growing problem on our campuses.

Mr. Carter's "A Call to Action" should not only be required reading in America, but should also serve as the template for a complete reinterpretation of the religious views behind our treatment of each other, to discover what he claims is the true meaning behind the miracle of creation.

Rebecca I. Denova is a lecturer in the early history of Christianity at the University of Pittsburgh, where she also teaches a course on women and religion (

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