Friday, 27 February 2015

Jimmy Carter: Women's rights fight of my life

As a son of the South, a governor and president, and as a man who spent decades tackling problems head-on, he knows the world is not perfect. It has too many people without a voice and without hope, too many examples of suffering and injustice.
There are so many wrongs to right. Yet among them, Carter is putting one ahead of all others: Violence and injustice against girls and women.
"This is going to be the highest priority for the rest of my life," he said this week.
He's doing it at the urging of wife, Rosalynn, and for his daughter, three granddaughters and five great-granddaughters. He says he wants them to have the same opportunities and security that men do
He's doing it for the more than 200 schoolgirls abducted by the Islamist extremist group Boko Haram in Nigeria, for those who have become ISIS militants' sex slaves and for girls everywhere who can't go to school. He's doing it for the estimated 160 million babies aborted or killed at birth in Asia in recent decades because they were not boys. He's doing it for American college co-eds and women in the military who suffer rape and see the men responsible walk free.
Carter also is doing it because of women he has met from places like Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. Some can't go home due to the taboos and dangers facing them in male-dominated societies. Others go anyway, risking their lives.
"They're the heroes," the former President says. "And they inspire me."
Scores of these "heroes" shared stories and brainstormed solutions this week at the Carter Center, the President's namesake humanitarian and advocacy organization. The issues ranged widely, from income inequality to so-called "honor killings." Yet the attendees were united in a belief that women should be on par with men, echoing Carter in his latest book titled, "A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence and Power."
He is making this the fight of his life, urging the conference attendees to be unrelenting.
"Let's not abandon this," he said.
'Death is mercy, compared to the alternatives'
Roughly half the world's population is male, the other half female.
In many ways, that's where the equality stops.
Within families worldwide, women take on leadership roles all the time. But it's a different story if you break down the roster of U.S. or world political leaders, or if you look at the business landscape -- only about 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women. And this is not to mention the higher likelihood of females to be sexually abused, turned into sex slaves, subjugated or otherwise mistreated.
"The more (the Carter Center was) involved in 80 different countries around the world, the more we saw clearly the most serious and unaddressed human rights abuse on earth is among women and girls," Carter told CNN this week. "It's much worse than I ever dreamed it was."
Some women endure physical abuse and personal humiliation because they don't see a way out.
Yet some resist.
Dalia Abd El-Hameed, from the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, said she was inspired to take action during the Arab Spring. She saw Egypt's revolution as "a window to do something different," namely to create a better and more just society.
She learned how activists' dreams don't always become realities, though. Sexual violence against women actually worsened after the fall of longtime President Hosni Mubarak and is now "reaching unprecedented levels," according to El-Hameed.
Yet she's still fighting.
"People are not being silenced," El-Hameed said. "It's a time of social uprising in the whole world. We are not alone in this."
Manal Omar, from the United States Institute of Peace, knows about the global push for change from her work in Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan and around the Middle East. Yes, women know they put their health and safety on the line by speaking out, but they do it anyway.
"Death is not the worst thing that can happen," Omar said, comparing it to sexual assault, physical abuse, psychological degradation and the loss of face and hope. "Death is mercy, compared to the alternatives."
Rationalizing through religion


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