Jimmy Carter left the presidency before I was born, so my images of him tend to emerge from history books: pictures of long lines at a gas station or an awkward three-way handshake between Carter and his Egyptian and Israeli counterparts. I started to become more aware of his legacy after being in a class with a Ghanaian chaplain who consistently pointed to Carter as a humble example of creating change in faith and health issues in Ghana. When I heard about his new book, A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence and Power, I thought it was time for me to pay attention.
Prophetic voices of faith cause us to look at realities we would rather ignore, yet also offer us a word of hope. Jimmy Carter is convinced that the greatest global challenge we face is the deprivation and abuse of women and girls, caused by the misinterpretation of selected Scriptures and a growing tolerance of violence.
Carter has consistently asked this question of religious persons from many faiths: are women equal to men in the eyes of God? Even as faith leaders consistently affirm the equal value of women, the question remains—how can we ensure that truth becomes a lived reality for women? If faith and violence are incompatible, why do we remain silent when violence occurs? Carter is honest enough to say that men remain quiet in order to enjoy the benefits of their dominant status. Yet that silence diminishes one-half of the world’s flourishing, and it perpetuates cruelty.
A Call to Action lays bare the violence perpetuated against woman—from overt forms, such as rape in warfare or on college campuses, to subtler forms such as disparity of pay. In the United States military, 30 percent of female soldiers have been sexually assaulted without redress, while simultaneously male student athletes, who often never receive suspension or an institutional investigation, commit one-third of sexual assaults on college campuses.
The United States often lags behind the rest of the world in women’s equality. We are one of only six countries, alongside Iran, Somalia, and Sudan, who refused to ratify the UN’s Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.
For the reader who wants the facts and statistics, the depth of the research in each chapter is astonishing. Yet those details are balanced with personal stories of women and men seeking transformation throughout the world. While political and religious leaders hold special responsibility, Carter acknowledges that most of us do not hold the influence of a former U.S. president. He draws from the testimony of teachers, mothers, and farmers around the world. Mama Tumah has worked vigorously to end female genital circumcision in Liberia, while the working women in India under the leadership of Ela Bhatt have gone from a pay of 20 cents a day to a massive cooperative ensuring health and life benefits. Carter notes that these changes occur only when women become central to decision-making processes.
This is not a triumphant account; rather Carter’s nine decades of life have grounded him in the belief that some violence can be stopped with collaborative efforts in knowledge and understanding. It is within the personal testimonies one finds the power of God’s call for each of us in each of our spheres of influence. Carter appeals to us, as Christians, to follow the examples of Christ and his transformative interactions with women. How then will we respond?
Reviewed by Chris Hoskins