Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter says women have played a pivotal role in the uprisings in the Middle East, including Tunisia and Egypt, as well as the ongoing revolution in Libya that demanded change for democracy and equal rights.
In an interview with VOA, Carter says one of the greatest human rights violations is done against women and girls around the world. He attributes this to the greediness of selfish men, including employers, who, he says, pay equally qualified female employees less than their male colleagues.
“In places like the Democratic Republic of Congo, it's just a customary right of privilege of soldiers to rape women with impunity. In some countries, it's not even a crime to rape a woman. In many other nations, women can't have property ownership, they can't inherit their own children if their husband dies, like in Saudi Arabia, they can't even drive an automobile,” said Carter.
“In Christian communities, as well, there is gross discrimination against women. Our people at the Carter Center believe that women should be treated equally in the eyes of God and that includes Islam and also Christianity and other religions. But, as you know, [in] the Catholic Church, they practically worship the Virgin Mary, but won't let a woman be a priest,” he added.
Carter and Navi Pillay, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, delivered the keynote addresses at a forum organized by the Carter Center on women's rights in Atlanta, Georgia.
In his keynote address, Carter said it is ironic that women are now welcomed into all major professions and other positions of authority, but are branded as inferior and deprived of the equal right to serve God in positions of religious leadership.
The forum, which is scheduled to end Wednesday, explored the challenges that women's rights activists face around the world, including the recent uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa.
It also focused on how religious and traditional institutions can better lead their local communities away from discrimination and violence against women.
Carter says African leaders should read and implement The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
“In some places, of course, the leaders of the opposition, the rebels, or freedom fighters, were women in the forefront of the demonstrations. And, of course, one of the reasons for that is that women have been deprived of more of their rights in the past than men have been deprived. But, as the revolution was successful, say in Egypt, they planned a million woman march and some of the men who have been alongside the women in the demonstrations condemned the women for seeking additional rights,” Carter said.
“The discrimination against women on a global basis is almost attributable to the declaration by religious leaders in Christianity, Islam and other religions that women are inferior in the eyes of God, and this gives men a right to abuse women, whether it's the husband beating up his wife or depriving a woman of her basic rights,” he added.
Meanwhile, in his keynote address Carter said his own Southern Baptist Convention leaders ordained, in recent years, that women must be “subservient” to their husbands and prohibited from serving as deacons, pastors, chaplains in the military service, or teachers of men.
He said they based this on a few carefully selected quotations from St. Paul and also the book of Genesis claiming that Eve was created second to Adam and was responsible for original sin. Carter said this was in conflict with his belief that we are all equal in the eyes of God.
The former president said this view that God considers women to be inferior to men is not restricted to one religion or tradition. Its influence does not stop at the walls of the church, mosque, synagogue, or temple. Women, he stated, are prevented from playing a full and equal role in many faiths creating an environment in which violations against women are justified.
According to Carter, the truth is that male religious leaders have had, and still have, an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter.