As we near International Women’s Day, I wanted to review Jimmy Carter’s latest book on violence and women called A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence and Power. First, regardless of your political opinion regarding the Carter administration, I really recommend reading this book because, if anything, it provides real statistics regarding the state of women in the world and the violence they encounter.
That being said, I think everyone should read this because it presents complicated, ancient, and horrifying problems in simple terms with concrete examples of ways to improve said problems. It’s an easy read in that every chapter is concise and you’re not inundated with policy or history (though obviously that comes into play), but it’s not easy in that there are a lot of graphic, troubling depictions of the violence and disease women endure throughout the world (and in the U.S.).
The book’s underlying theme is that religion often, sometimes without meaning to, plays a part in the continued subjugation and abuse of women. Further, it described how governments always play a part in implementing policies that can further the abuse of women. The book presents possible solutions that can be put in place locally into the community, or even nationally or globally if one is brave enough to push for these changes.
Again it is very descriptive of some of the ailments women face. It’s not just physical and sexual abuse, but the physical ramifications they endure due to economic and political policies. For example, President Carter is known for his work in eradicating Guinea Worm. In one description there is a woman suffering from guinea worm that almost made me sick–and I can put up with a lot. It was stomach-turning, but he doesn’t give descriptions to titillate, rather he does it as gently as possible to underscore his point. But still it can seem horrific because these situations are horrific.
The book focuses on religion, but it in no way bashes any religion or text; rather it points out unequal, unjust, and violent practices used by men to maintain their power. Since President Carter is a devout Christian, he is able to intertwine biblical stories to highlight how Christianity is actually supposed to hold women equal to men–much like the other world religions also hold women as equals–yet women face troubling discrimination and violence in Christian communities because people in power desecrate and obfuscate religious texts to keep themselves in power.
I really appreciated his willingness to discuss this problem. As an attorney that works with survivors of domestic violence, I know of too many occasions where women have been coerced to return to abusive relationships because their religious leaders have guilted them into returning. So while many may read this book and just see the big global picture–I was able to see how this problem affects the communities I represent.
The book also covers a vast array of violence: economical, physical, sexual, and emotional. It talks about how those in charge attempt to keep women subordinate and create policy that not only make women powerless, but often lead to fatal consequences. For example, refusing to give aid to foreign NGOs that discuss contraception has helped increase HIV/AIDs, which infects women and children at higher rates than men in certain countries. It highlights all areas of the world and does a great job at showing that bad things don’t just happen “there” or that “this” religion is the only one that harms women.
In the end, he does discuss some possible solutions, which are very roots-based. It’s important for the local community to be the leaders in whatever movement or change needs to happen. One example is how building private latrines not only helped decrease some illnesses in East Asian communities, but also made the environment safer for women because they didn’t have to go out into fields to relieve themselves; leaving themselves open to attack. But these movement had to be backed by the local women to be successful. It’s also important to get the men involved to push for change, otherwise the battle is much harder. He describes a case where a tribal leader witnessed a woman die during childbirth because she went into labor in her home and there were no qualified people nearby to help. The leader created a rule that all pregnant women had to have some type of midwife available to help during pregnancy/delivery, and the mortality rate for mothers has plummeted in that country–that’s real, effecting change this leader implemented in his community that is saving women’s lives, and in turn creating stronger communities.
This is a great book for someone that is new to the topic of violence against women (violence not just being physical acts causing injury) because it hits on many topics in a short, straightforward way. It’s also great for people well-versed in this subject; it illuminated me in areas I knew little about, and in others, I was able to see a larger historical context that I generally don’t see in my area of practice with regards to violence against women.
My final impression was that there are so many areas of abuse that it can be overwhelming to even believe that one person can make a difference. It feels almost safer to block things out because otherwise it gets overwhelming. But if Jimmy Carter can literally pull worms out of the body of orphans, then we can try to create change in our own communities no matter how “small.”
Finally, very superficial note, the cover is so vibrant and clean. It’s bright blue (Cobalt, I’d say) and the letters are big and bright, yet simple. It’s an eye-catching cover and I plan to keep it prominently on my upstairs coffee table so that it can lead to conversation in the future (yes, I’m the type of person that will discuss violence against women at a dinner party).
Have you read the book?