Reviewed by Rosemary Anderson
A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power
Simon & Schuster, 2014
A Call to Action, by Jimmy Carter, is a profoundly compelling argument for women worldwide to be given the same rights as men. As a former president of the United States, and an ongoing major force in the global struggle for women’s rights, Carter informs this book with his unique global knowledge and insight.
Carter was raised on a farm in rural Georgia, his home a safe haven in the midst of a roiling sea of prejudice. Rachel Clark, an African-American cotton-picker who worked on the family farm, was his childhood hero. “She and I were bonded in many ways,” he writes, “as she taught me how to fish, how to recognize trees, birds, and flowers, and how I should relate to God and to other people. Rachel was famous for picking more cotton and shaking and stacking more peanuts than anyone else, man or woman… I would work beside her… I was not aware of distinctions among people based on race or sex in those early and innocent days of my life.”
While still a youth, he was startled by the obvious racial and gender prejudices that permeated people’s conversations and behaviour. He noticed that people would misappropriate passages from the Bible to justify their personal prejudices. This was so contrary to his upbringing and beliefs, that eradicating gender and racial prejudice became a major part of his life’s work and was a significant factor in his winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002.
In A Call to Action, Carter clearly demonstrates how, at times, influential members of each of the world’s major faiths twist the words of their Holy Books to propagate prejudice, especially against women. “The relegation of women to an inferior or circumscribed status by many religious leaders is one of the primary reasons for the promotion and perpetuation of sexual abuse,” he writes. Even surpassing economic disparity, he says, “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” (his italics).
Importantly, the focus of Carter’s criticism is the misogynistic practices themselves – genital mutilation, for example — and not the faiths within which such practices may occur. In fact, he gives numerous examples of his own deep friendships and inspiring encounters with many people in many faiths. The problem, he maintains, is not what the religions themselves teach but, rather, is the misinterpretations that some have attached to the teachings. With respect to Christianity, for example, he says, “There is one incontrovertible fact concerning the relationship between Jesus Christ and women: he treated them as equal to men, which was dramatically different from the prevailing custom of the times.” Yet the Catholic Church, for one, refuses to ordain women to the priesthood on the basis that “women are equal but different” – the very argument used for generations to defend the American practice of slavery.
No major religion and no nation is exempt from Carter’s scrutiny. He provides close-ups of abuse in countries rich and poor, but the book is no mere litany of abuses, as he also offers a list of suggestions to help individual readers to make a difference and describes numerous actions he and others have taken to help overcome the issues, including founding the highly influential human rights organization known as the Carter Center.
A Call to Action is a must-read for anyone who cares even a little about justice for humanity. A timely and impassioned plea for women’s rights, it is replete with inspiring, motivating and quotable quotes as well as practical ways for each one of us – whatever our gender, race or status – to become a better agent of change.
Rosemary Anderson is an award-winning writer who has twice been a finalist for Western Magazine Awards. Her work has been published in Trek Magazine, The Tyee, PRISM Online, and The Vancouver Sun, and has been anthologised in North America and East Africa. She has also produced several radio shows, including four radio dramas broadcast on CiTR. Visit her website at www.rosemaryanderson.com.