Over two weeks ago, hundreds of girls and young women were kidnapped from a girls' secondary school in Nigeria. The Associated Press reports that about 220 remain missing. Rumors are rampant that the girls were sold as child brides.
This one incident, all too common throughout the world, intertwines many of the themes of violence against women that are urgent problems: war, rape, genocide of girls, slavery, prostitution and child marriage. All of these themes and more are explored by Jimmy Carter in his most recent book, A Call To Action: Women, Religion, Violence and Power.
The 39th President of the United States identifies some of the most deplorable and widespread acts of gender-based violence -- something he calls "the most serious challenge facing us now" -- while taking special issue with the religious persecution of women.
Over his 90-years of life experience, Carter has witnessed how Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and other faiths have used their religious texts to proclaim the lower status of women. And he is mad. He is mad religious leaders are manipulating sacred texts, he is mad at the brutality of female genital cutting, he is disturbed by sexual slavery, honor killings and spousal abuse, he is aghast at the inaction of colleges dealing with campus rape, and he is tired of the inequality of pay that women continue to experience.
He is every woman's hero. Or he should be.
His book is a blend of autobiography and passionate politics. He takes the issue of women's empowerment personally, writing of his decision to break ties with the Southern Baptist Convention in 2000 after it voted to exclude women from pastoral leadership; the rape of a college student when he was Governor and how "infuriated" he was when local officials didn't want to prosecute the rapist; and the Bible studies he facilitates which have themes of women empowerment. Some of my favorite moments come from the recollections of his childhood in Georgia. He talks about fishing and picking cotton, and his respect for -- and admiration of -- his mother, wife and other female employees and friends is just palpable.
When reading Call to Action, I got the sense that this is a man who has spent nine decades advocating for women and will continue to do so until his last breath. He is a man on a mission, listing 23 challenges he and The Carter Center are determined to work on for the betterment of women. He demonstrates how he used his influence throughout his lifetime to push women's rights forward. And his call to action for all of us is to do the same. "The fact is," he writes, "all of us can act within our own spheres of influence to meet the challenges."
Carter's book overwhelms as well as inspires. Few have the international ties to help the Nigerian girls who are, in all likelihood, being sold into slavery at this moment. But all of us have opportunities in our personal and professional lives to mentor, encourage and advocate for equality -- and to promote the protection of women's safety as well as their rights.