When President Jimmy Carter took office in 1977, women’s issues and gender equality dominated headlines. Since leaving the Oval Office, President Carter has continued his work to end sexual discrimination and the abuse of women through his organization, The Carter Center.
The 39th president spoke with The State of Things host, Frank Stasio, about his new book, “A Call To Action: Women, Religion, Violence and Power” (Simon & Schuster/2014).
The treatment of women is worse now than it was when he was in office, Carter said. "I would say that the worst prevailing sexual abuse in America is on the university campuses," he said. "And that includes Duke in Durham and others in North Carolina as well as Emory University in Georgia where I teach, Harvard and Yale. Here the incidence of sexual abuse is obscene almost."
University administrators do not encourage reporting of sexual assault and perpetrators are not convicted, he said. Federal funds can be withheld from schools that do not take corrective actions under Title IX, the federal statute aimed at correcting gender inequities in educational institutions, but Carter said he believes universities must do outreach to students to convince reporting and punishment.
High rates of incarceration, the death penalty and the growing gap between rich and poor provide fertile ground for violence against women, Carter said.
He said he believes the problem is further complicated by the use of religious principles to discriminate against women. "Almost all religions have as a generic theme, peace and justice and fairness and humility and service and alleviation of suffering," he said. "So when anybody tries to use Bible verses to prove that women are inferior, I think they are violating the exact meaning of the holy scripture."
Part of the movement towards equality must involve political action, Carter noted. One of his goals as president was to increase the number of female judges in federal courts. But the push for equality extends also to public office holders where women comprise only 18 percent of elected offices, he said.
Stasio asked Carter about the influence of money on politics and specifically, the 2010 Supreme Court decision on campaign finance in the Citizens United case.
"The Citizens United decision was the stupidest thing that the U.S. Supreme Court has ever done in history," he responded. "I think it has had a major role in derogating the quality of our free enterprise system and also our political system in this country."
The Supreme Court issued a decision striking down aggregate limits on federal campaign donations. The decision is expected to increase the influence of money on American politics.