Thank you, Former President

 “I can tell you without any equivocation that the number one abuse of human rights on Earth is, strangely, not addressed quite often, is the abuse of women and girls.”

Jimmy Carter • TEDWomen 2015

When I heard the news last week that former US President Jimmy Carter had entered hospice care, I was surprised by all the tributes that poured on all my social media. The little I knew about President Carter had come from high school history classes, and that mostly focused on his presidential work, such as the Camp David Accords, the Iran hostage crisis, and high inflation. What I was less familiar with was his advocacy for human rights and his passion for advancing women’s rights. To prove it, in 2015, President Carter declared that the fight against the violence and mistreatment of girls and women “is going to be the highest priority for the rest of my life.”

This inspired me to take a Google crash course about the former President. I found out that during Carter’s campaign for the White House in 1976, he pledged to bring a new form of diplomacy to American foreign affairs and politics. His goal was to root our public policy in human rights principles, creating an opportunity for all people around the world to have their natural-born freedoms. In his inaugural address in 1977, Carter spoke extensively of his human rights strategy and his hope to integrate it into American culture. This laid the foundation for what he would attempt to accomplish during his time in and out of office.

President Carter reinforced his commitment to women’s rights by issuing the first-ever Presidential Proclamation establishing the week of March 8, 1980, as National Women’s History Week. In his address to the American people, he stated, “Too often the women were unsung and sometimes their contributions went unnoticed. But the achievements, leadership, courage, strength and love of the women who built America were as vital as that of the men whose names we know so well.” His speech went on to mention women’s rights activists that inspired him, like Susan B. Anthony and Harriet Tubman. I was personally moved by his call for America to honor everyone who helped found our nation – no matter their gender or race.

While President Carter lost his bid for re-election in 1980, he devoted his life after the Presidency to promoting democracy, human rights, and helping those who do not have a voice to share their experiences. In recent years, his focus grew to especially advocating for women and girls. In 2014, he published “Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power,” stating that it was “by far the most important book I’ve ever written in my life.”

Despite an ‘extremely religious’ upbringing, President Carter was aware that religious scripture often encouraged the suppression and mistreatment of women. His book urged religious leaders and organizations to support equality. He argued women should feel safe and have the right to express themselves in religious settings.

In response to the book, President Carter was invited to speak at the 2015 TEDWomens Conference. In his speech, he gave multiple examples of the mistreatment of women and even noted that in America, women are too often still oppressed. To make his point, the former President expressed growing concern for the American wage gap. When he was president there was a 39% difference in pay, it decreased to 23% in 2000, and today it stands as 18%. While a 0% wage gap will represent equality, we have President Carter to thank for this progress.

While President Carter served only four years in the White House, his impact on protecting and defending people who did not have a voice and advancing women’s rights is still felt to this day. Hearing the news of his current state is heartbreaking, but I am very thankful to him for attempting to make America and the world a better and safer place for females everywhere during his Presidency and in the decades after.

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