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Former US President Jimmy Carter's latest book is called Call to Action – Women, Religion, Violence and Power. In a CBC interview, he spoke about his view on what women’s problems are as well as the solutions.

“Not many people know the horror of what is done to women and girls,” says Carter. "Although we know the worst war in history was WWII when 32 million people were killed, in this generation five times that many little girls have been killed by their own parents for being born female instead of male or when discovering in an ultrasound that the sex is female.

“We’ve lost about 60 million people in China, almost an equal number in India, where the government has imposed a limit on the size of families,” he says. “In poverty stricken areas where the government doesn’t interfere, if the family feels it can only afford to buy food for a couple of children because they don’t have any social security guarantees, they want boys. And so they execute the girls at birth.”

The resulting imbalance of the sexes has a further consequence to the survivors – a shortage of brides, causing increased trade in human beings. Carter says the estimated 800,000 humans trafficked each year are worth 32 billion dollars annually, “about 80 percent of whom are girls being sold into sexual slavery.”

Carter sites religion as another loophole. He says that although it’s very difficult to find verses in the Koran that don’t say that men and women are equal, things change at the local level. In Egypt about 90 percent of the women and girls have undergone mutilation of their genitalia, yet this is neither ordained, demanded or even mentioned in the Koran.

Carter also laments the impunity that men in positions of power maintain.

It’s a power that does not motivate a call to action: "The problem is that male leaders, in all institutions, even if they disagree with the persecution of women, stay quiet because they really are enjoying some privileges. It’s the same thing that the black people suffered when I was a child in a segregated south of America. When a lot of white people didn’t like the discrimination of black people but we certainly enjoyed getting the best jobs, the best education and so forth. "

The US military and the universities also exhibit problems for women.

“It’s kind of a subtle thing that men enjoy their superiority in getting the best jobs, the best opportunity to go to university and that sort of thing,” says Carter. "Two of the most revered institutions in the United States of America is our university system and our military. Sexual abuse or assaults on campuses in our major universities, like Harvard and Yale and Emery University where I teach, is really horrendous and only four percent of the rapes on college campuses are reported. There are about six times as many reported in civilian life outside of universities, and this is primarily because presidents of colleges and universities and deans and so forth don’t want to bring discredit or a bad reputation on their own institution. So they encourage girls not to report.

“And soon, a few boys on the campus who are students realize that they can commit these crimes with impunity. So they become serial rapists and get away with it. The department of defence found that in the US military alone, 26 thousand sexual assaults took place, and only about 300 actually resulted in anybody being punished. That’s about one percent.

“You see, there’s an aversion to admit what goes on even in our most cherished institutions.”

Carter believes that working with United Nations agencies is one effective way to address abuse against women and girls, such as Angelina Jolie does with regards to the problem of rape in war zones, but in his book he outlines 23 practical things that Canadians and Americans can do to address problems at home: "One is for women to speak out more effectively and aggressively when they are abused. We also need to make sure we have international law that would prevent the continued abuse of girls in early child marriage and international trade in human beings is horrendous.

“[In Atlanta Georgia] we have more than 200 girls every month, little girls, who are sold into slavery, primarily because Atlanta has the largest airport on Earth, and also because we have a lot of passengers coming in from the southern hemisphere, where girls can be bought for slavery and prostitution for about $1000. And so prostitution goes on. This is the kind of thing that we can do in our own back yard. We can also share our success stories with the people in the less developed part of the world.”

Carter says it does no good to preach what others ought to do in their culture when we don’t want to correct our problems in our own.

Jimmy Carter’s Call to Action – Women, Religion, Violence and Power is available at Amazon.com.

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