Jimmy Carter is making a "call to action" over discrimination and violence against women, addressing issues from female genital mutilation to child marriage in a new book out in the US this week.
The 39th US president writes in A Call to Action of his belief that "the most serious and unaddressed worldwide challenge is the deprivation and abuse of women and girls", which he says is "largely caused by a false interpretation of carefully selected religious texts and a growing tolerance of violence and warfare, unfortunately following the example set during my lifetime by the United States".
The book is already drawing positive reviews: the Pittsburgh Post Gazette said that it "should not only be required reading in America, but should also serve as the template for a complete reinterpretation of the religious views behind our treatment of each other". The St Louis Post-Dispatch said it "reinforces [Carter's] dedication to wiping out injustice – and his ability to move others to join his cause".
Simon & Schuster said that Carter, who, with his wife Rosalynn, has visited 145 countries, his charity The Carter Centre active in more than half of them, was "encouraged to write this book by a wide coalition of leaders of all faiths". The book will see Carter point out "that women are treated more equally in some countries that are atheistic or where governments are strictly separated from religion".
"Around the world, [Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter] have seen inequality rising rapidly with each passing decade. This is true in both rich and poor countries, and among the citizens within them," said the publisher. "Carter draws upon his own experiences and the testimony of courageous women from all regions and all major religions to demonstrate that women around the world, more than half of all human beings, are being denied equal rights. This is an informed and passionate charge about a devastating effect on economic prosperity and unconscionable human suffering. It affects us all."
Speaking to the US's National Public Radio about his new book – the latest in a long literary career for the US president – Carter discussed how quotations from the Bible can be used to argue for both equality and the inferiority of women. "You can pick out individual verses throughout the Bible that show that the verse favours your particular preference, and the fact that the Catholic church, for instance, prohibits women from serving as priests or even deacons gives a kind of a permission to male people all over the world, that well, if God thinks that women are inferior, I'll treat them as inferiors. If she's my wife, I can abuse her with impunity, or if I'm an employer, I can pay my female employees less salary," he said.
In A Call to Action, he writes of how some selected scriptures are interpreted, "almost exclusively by powerful male leaders within the Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and other faiths, to proclaim the lower status of women and girls".
"This claim that women are inferior before God spreads to the secular world to justify gross and sustained acts of discrimination and violence against them," writes Carter.
As well as the "unconscionable human suffering" which he writes is "almost embarrassing to acknowledge", there is also "a devastating effect on economic prosperity caused by the loss of contributions of at least half the human beings on earth," writes Carter. "This is not just a women's issue. It is not confined to the poorest countries. It affects us all."
Carter is also the author of more than 20 books, including Palestine: Peace not Apartheid, and Our Endangered Values, subtitled America's Moral Crisis.