Former President Jimmy Carter said Saturday that he believes the single greatest challenge facing the world is discrimination against women and girls.
Carter, who delivered the commencement address at Liberty University in Virginia, said he now places the human rights abuses against women and girls even higher on his list of global problems than wealth disparity. Carter has long been concerned about economic inequality, and he said that it continues to widen at alarming rates.
Carter, 93, said 160 million girls and women are not alive today because their parents killed their daughters at birth or aborted them as fetuses because of laws and customs that favor sons. He also talked about the prevalence of human trafficking and sexual assault. The former president said that in US military, "one of the finest organizations on earth," there are 16,000 cases of sexual abuse every year.
Speaking about wealth disparity, Carter said the problem is widening "within nations and also between nations." He added that only a handful of people, most of them Americans, control more wealth than half the world's population.
Carter referred to President Donald Trump only once in the address -- a quick joke about how he was told the crowd size this year was bigger than last year. But he focused the bulk of his remarks on current issues facing the United States and the world. Carter said the threat of nuclear war has become more acute and that America has abandoned its leadership as a champion of a clean and healthy environment. He also lamented that public confidence in public officials has declined.
"We citizens have tended to lose faith in ourselves and in each other," he said.
Carter, a former governor of Georgia who rose to national prominence in the divisive civil rights era, said the partisan and racial divisions in the United States "are becoming deeper and deeper."
"So far, we Americans down through history have had a hard time adjusting to this concept of equality ..." he said. "Even now, some of us are still struggling to accept the fact that all people are equal in the eyes of God."
The United States has more people in prison than any other country, Carter said, adding that there are several times more Americans in prison now than when he was in the White House in the late 1970s, "more than any country on earth."
"There are attributes of a superpower that go beyond military strength," Carter said. "Our nation should be known as a champion of peace. Our nation should be known as a champion of equality. Our nation should be known as a champion of human rights. We should also be admired for our generosity to other people in need and other moral values."