"The abuse of women and girls is the most pervasive and unaddressed human rights violation on earth." Marking the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, Jimmy Carter condemns the widespread discrimination that justifies and perpetuates the abuse of girls and women across the world.
One of the most powerful truths in my Christian faith is that I and all other people are equal in the eyes of God. Many believers of all religions – Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists – violate this basic premise by claiming that men are exalted at the expense of women.
Several years ago my wife Rosalynn and I decided to sever our ties to the Baptist denomination to which I had given allegiance for seventy years because its leaders decided to depart from this principle and to deprive women of equal rights to serve as ministers, deacons, chaplains, or in other positions of leadership. We continue to worship in our local Baptist church that is served by both a male and female minister, where I teach Bible lessons and Rosalynn is a deacon.
Devout Christians can select specific verses from the Holy Scriptures to justify this claim of masculine superiority, but their premise contradicts the incontrovertible fact that Jesus Christ never condoned the subservience – or inferiority – of women. It is well known that there were many examples of women leaders in the early Christian churches.
This prejudice, unfortunately, is extremely common. Men who wish to abuse women physically, deprive them of equal pay or exclude them from the same opportunities in political or economic affairs tend to justify their actions because of this misinterpretation by men who are in ascendant religious positions.
No country on earth where women’s discrimination does not exist
The abuse of women and girls is the most pervasive and unaddressed human rights violation on earth.
Women’s inequality has profoundly affected our world. Scholarly studies have shown that about 160 million women are not living because girls are less valued.
In extremely poor families, or when the number of children is limited by law, baby girls have been killed as soon as their sex was determined after birth. With the more recent advent of sonogram examinations, the identified foetus of a girl is simply aborted. Nobel laureate Amartya Sen estimates that at least 50 million women and girls are missing in China, and similar consequences are evident in India and other countries.
A shortage of wives has developed, which has added to the widespread trafficking in girls, some to be forced into unwanted marriages, and others into prostitution or household slavery. In some societies, girls are deprived of an equal opportunity for education. They are strictly prohibited from community activities that men and boys perform. When healthcare, food or other necessities are limited, men and boys get first priority.
In addition to deprivation and forced early marriages, rape and other sexual assaults are all too prevalent, even in wealthy and otherwise law-abiding environments. This includes females in the United States who are students in universities or who serve in the military.
Rape has become an accepted privilege of war in the Eastern Congo and other zones of combat. In India, a rape is reported every 22 minutes with few convictions or punishment of those who attack women. There is no country on earth where discrimination against women and girls does not exist in some form.
We must honour our commitment to end violence and discrimination
Resolutions have been adopted in recent years by the UN Security Council and General Assembly to expose and condemn these practices, which directly violate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
25 November has been set by the United Nations as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. On this day we are compelled to think about the abuse and deprivation of women in this broad sense, starting with women’s inequality at the heart of our institutions. We need to reflect upon the fact that our churches, mosques, boardrooms and parliaments still condone laws and customs that violate the rights of women as equals.
We must ensure that UN principles are upheld. We can work within the frame of a powerful document, the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). All countries on earth have ratified this text – except five, including the United States.
I would urge everyone to read once again the brief, clear, and incisive paragraphs of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It spells out a commitment made in 1948 by every country on earth to recognise the inalienable rights of all people, with an emphasis on equal rights of men and women “without distinction of any kind”.
We must honour these guarantees of an end to discrimination against at least half the people on earth.
Until then, our mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters will continue to live in a world that is profoundly different and more dangerous than my own.
This article also appeared on the Thomson Reuters Foundation's Trust Women website.