Jimmy Carter, U.S. President from 1977-1981, has sometimes been called the most active and distinguished ex-President in history.
Since his retirement from the White House, Carter has founded The Carter Center, which works to improve the lives of people around the world. He and his wife Rosalyn have traveled tirelessly to 145 countries in its behalf.
He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002 and has written over 25 books.
Carter has long been an advocate for improved civil, political, social, and economic rights for women, and that topic is the particular focus of this book.
He takes a very broad perspective, discussing the campaign to increase political and economic clout of women in Western countries to campaigns in developing countries to keep women from child marriages and forced prostitution.
A strength of this book is the comprehensive approach Carter takes to issues involving women. As well as dealing with subtle, or not-so-subtle, practices that retard women’s progress in Western societies, he also examines numerous crimes against women worldwide, including sexual assault, rape, domestic violence, slavery, prostitution, “honor” killings, genital cutting, child marriage, dowry deaths, and selective abortion and infanticide of girls.
He has the strong personal belief that barriers to women are barriers to the broader society, and he makes this case convincingly.
Also, he argues that almost any kind of social or economic stress worldwide typically ends up hurting women and girls disproportionately more than it hurts males.
Although a Southern Baptist Christian himself, he broke with his broader denomination some years ago over its failure to affirm women in leadership. Carter himself firmly believes that the basic teachings of all major religions and their sacred documents affirm the rights of women.
He is very critical of those men in various religious traditions who try to use their faith to deny rights and protection to half the population. For example, he addresses Christ’s “turn the other cheek” teaching as applied to domestic violence and says it does not mean a battered wife should return to her abuser, nor should she try to fight him physically, but rather she should take the third way of nonviolent resistance of moving out to protect herself, perhaps to a battered women’s shelter.
Similarly, he is very critical of American Christians who try to block AIDS prevention programs in Africa because they distribute condoms.
There are some truly heartbreaking stories in this book, especially those from very patriarchal societies, such as the educated Afghan girl forced into a marriage with a general who threatened her family if she refused him.
She eventually escaped to the U.S. due to her family’s connection with the Carters, but many others have not been so fortunate.
Lest we become complacent, Carter points out that by many metrics, the U.S. is near the bottom of industrialized countries in terms of numbers of women in leadership, maternal and infant deaths, and other measures.
For example, the number of maternal mortalities per 100,000 births ranges from two in Estonia to under 10 in Western Europe to 21 in the U.S. to over 1000 in Chad and Somalia.
Although there are many informative and sometimes shocking statistics in this book, there are also numerous success stories.
Moroccan King Mohammed VI pushed through several measures protecting the rights of women in 2004.
Sweden reduced prostitution activity by prosecuting men who use its services rather than the women who provide them.
The gruesome disease of Guinea worm has been almost eradicated worldwide by the Carter Center and cooperating governments in its last bastions in West Africa.
This is a stimulating read, depressing in places, but overall somewhat hopeful.
Jimmy Carter never seems to give up hope and always believes that things can be better.
This spirit of hope has driven him to steadfastly work to make people’s lives better. One cannot help but greatly admire that.
Most of us would think we have earned the right to relax by the time we approach ninety, but President Carter keeps on working for change.