Jimmy Carter Says Treatment of Women and Girls, Not Wealth Disparity, is World's Biggest Issue

Former President Jimmy Carter delivered a rousing commencement speech at Liberty University on Saturday, telling graduates that recent events had changed his perception of the world's biggest issues. The 93-year-old, who has focused on philanthropic causes since leaving the Oval Office in 1981, said the most formidable global challenge is the ill-treatment of women and girls.

During his address at the Virginia university, Carter recounted giving a speech in 1999 during which he said wealth disparity was the world's most pressing issue. While income inequality still poses a global crisis, it is now trumped by violations against women and young girls, Carter said.

"Recently, I've changed my mind about the biggest challenge that the world faces," Carter told graduates at the religious university. "I think now it's a human rights problem and it is the discrimination against women and girls in the world."

He referenced birth policies that discriminate against females, human trafficking in Atlanta and sexual abuse within the United States military.

"A girl who has brown skin or black skin can be sold, according to The New York Times, to a brothel owner for about $1,000.…" he said. "The last time we did a check on our military, we found there were 16,000 cases of sexual abuse."

The former president also spoke against gender disparities within the Southern Baptist community. "One of the differences we couldn't solve was the equal status of women," he said, recounting a meeting between mostly male religious leaders.

He advised students at Liberty—the largest Christian University in the country—to work on healing societal divides and to live a life "filled with love."

"We decide whether we tell the truth or benefit from telling lies," he said. "We're the ones who decide, do I hate or am I filled with love? We're the ones who decide, do I only think about myself, or do I care for others? We ourselves make these decisions and no one else."

Carter is the third president to deliver a commencement address at Liberty University. President Donald Trump, who counts the school's President Jerry Falwell Jr. as one of his biggest supporters, gave a controversial sendoff to graduates last year. Carter referenced that in the opening of his address.

"This is a wonderful crowd," Carter said. "Jerry told me it's even bigger, I hate to say this, than it was last year. I don't know if President Trump would admit that or not."