Former President Jimmy Carter spoke at the Princeton University chapel yesterday afternoon, presenting students, faculty and community members with harsh realities facing women, both across the world and on their campus.
He urged the roughly 800 students, faculty, and community members in the chapel to take action. “The greatest unaddressed and sometimes unadmitted violation of human rights is the deprivation of equal opportunities for girls and women,” Carter said.
Carter, who served as President from 1977-1981, is now 90 years-old. He came to the University as part of a promotional tour for his most recent book, “A Call to Action,” on the intersection of women’s rights and religion.
“There is a plethora of unaddressed crimes perpetrated against women,” he said.One example he used is genital mutilation. A practice that he says is common in some countries, including Egypt. He also cited statistics indicating the prevalence of sex slavery and sex-selective abortion. “These statistics are almost, literally, incredible. They’re hard to believe” he said. “It’s because men, in general, benefit from the superior position that we hold in economics, politics, and government.”
Carter says the harsh oppression of women in other countries is one of the things he learned more about while working at the Carter Center, the nonprofit which he founded with his wife Rosalyn in 1982. He later won a Nobel Prize for his work at the Carter Center.
Carter’s critiques of the treatment of women and girls were not confined to nations far from Princeton’s campus. He discussed the way that Universities handle accusations of rape, adding that Princeton was recently found in violation of Title IX, the gender equity law for it handled past allegations of sexual misconduct.
Carter spoke out strongly in favor of swift changes in the discipline systems at Princeton and other Universities in order to make it easier to discipline rapists, citing data indicating that only a few serial rapists commit 90 percent of the rapes on college campuses. Right now, he said, they know they can get away with it.”I think in the future they’ll know that if they do get caught as a rapist they will be expelled from college and put in jail,” he said, to a burst of applause from the audience.
Princeton has since revised its guidelines and last month the U. S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has concluded its investigation and said those changes should put the school into compliance under Title IX.
Carter also spoke about the influence of religion on his thinking, and on the use of religion for the advancement of women’s rights. He maintained that most of the religious leaders who he has spoken to do not believe women to be inferior. However, he added, sometimes more subtle religious justifications are employed.”They also admit that they think women to be different, and they use that difference to make sure that women don’t have any positions of power in their faith,” said Carter. “This is frightening.” He added that it is important to educate people that certain customs, such as genital mutilation, have no basis in religion or law.
Carter left the Southern Baptist church in 2000, after its leaders made a decision reducing women’s power in the church and suggesting that men and women are not equal.
Carter’s focus on the mistreatment of women resonated especially strongly here given the recent Title IX violation, as well as accusations of misogyny at Tiger Inn, one of Princeton’s coeducational eating clubs
Students in the audience say they were impressed with his directness with which the former President addressed such controversial issues.
“I liked that he presented information that oftentimes we’re very uncomfortable presenting.” said Christina Rice, a sophomore at Princeton from Upstate New York, who asked Carter a question about the choice that many women feel like they have to make between a successful career and a family.
Students also were encouraged that the talk might make a difference in University policy. “I hope that his words will resonate for administrators on campus,” said Daniel Wood, a freshman at Princeton from Dover, Massachusetts.
Prior to the talk, Carter accepted the James Madison Award for distinguished public service from Princeton’s American Whig-Cliosophic Society, the oldest college literary and debating society in the nation.