Carter 2014

Former President Jimmy Carter has sounded the alarm on violence against women, but is the rest of the world ready to listen?

In recent years, former President Jimmy Carter has turned his attention to the most enduring and pervasive human rights violation in the world: violence against women and girls.

It's not surprising, given his deep personal commitment to expanding human rights. Perhaps what's less expected is the outspoken position he has taken on religion's role in violence against women, a role he takes head on his new book A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power

I say less expected because few have dared to touch the role religious interpretation plays in condoning gender-based violence. Women's rights activists don't want to be anti-religious and many religious leaders would eschew a "feminist" label.
But because President Carter transcends these simple groupings he is well suited to make the case.

He's been vocal throughout his career about the importance of religion in his own life. When he left the Southern Baptist Church over women's rights -- after 60 years of membership -- he made waves (and front pages).

I had the chance to talk with President Carter about religion while at a discussion last year that The Carter Center hosted in Atlanta. We discussed the International Violence Against Women Act (H.R.3571), the book he was then outlining, and the leading role grassroots women will have in creating change around the globe. President Carter seems to understand, at his very core, that the best solutions start from the ground up.

That's precisely why President Carter has also been a vocal supporter of the International Violence Against Women Act, which was reintroduced in the House of Representatives last November. If passed, the bill would help change attitudes, cultural norms, and yes, even religious interpretations around violence against women and girls. It does this by supporting local programs that engage community leaders, many of whom are religious leaders, to talk about why violence hurts not just women and girls, but also families and communities.

There are many truly courageous faith-based groups and advocates already doing this work. But they lack the financial and programmatic support to truly take on the powerful religious voices that preach a misogynistic interpretation of scripture.

Locals and issue experts working together is an approach that merges wisdom with knowledge and helps guarantee that effective strategies are adopted.

Yet far too few world leaders have demonstrated insight and strength like President Carter's to call us to action and adopt a grassroots-driven approach to stopping violence against women girls.

In the end, perhaps this will be one of the most enduring elements of President Carter's legacy: listening to women and men who have so often been ignored and calling on the rest of us to do same.