Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter says religious leaders, including those in Christianity and Islam, share the blame for mistreatment of women and girls across the world.
The 88-year-old human rights activist said Friday that male religious leaders perpetuate misguided doctrines of male superiority, from the Catholic Church forbidding women from becoming priests to some African cultures mutilating the genitals of young girls.
In a related interview with Reuters ahead of his remarks, Carter asked: “How many Catholic priests do you know that are women? None.”
He said women are treated as inferior in some regard the world-over, apparently citing unequal pay in the United States as an example.
“The root cause of it is two-fold,” Carter said. “The major religions preach women are inferior to men, and the other thing is just the general condonement of violence in society. The U.S. is one of the prime examples of constant war.”
The former president says the religious doctrines contribute to a political, social and economic structure where political leaders passively accept domestic violence against women, sexual trafficking, and inequality in the workplace and classroom.
However, he cited positive changes in countries like Tunisia, where he said people are beginning to realize it is “morally wrong” and “detrimental to the country’s economic progress” to omit women from large segments of society.
In his own life, Carter belongs to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, where he and his wife are said to be active members.
Carter reportedly cited a verse from St. Paul saying men and women are equal in the eyes of God during the Reuters interview.
“That’s the primary verse that I quote when I do get into an argument,” he said. “Not that many people argue with me about it because they know how I feel.”
The 39th president delivered his complete analysis during an international conference on women and religion. He’s hosting representatives from 15 countries at The Carter Center, the human rights organization he launched in 1982 after leaving the White House.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.