Back in 1978, I was a part of history when I joined feminists in Washington in support of the Equal Rights Amendment. At the time, our march—with 100,000 protesters—was the biggest women’s march ever. The numbers at Saturday’s protests far exceeded any marches in the history of the United States—and inspired hope for a future that looks grim.
Like the Peoples’ Climate March in New York in 2015, the Women’s Marches around the world called out a multiplicity of issues. My family and friends held signs that said: “Black Lives Matter,” “My Body is not Your Political Battleground,” “Celebrate Diversity,” “Queer Brown Immigrant for Women’s Rights,” and even just “Love.” It was not just Donald Trump we were marching against. It is all that he symbolizes and all he has put forward as his vision for this country. It is homophobia, racism, sexism, xenophobia—the list goes on. The D.C. march ended symbolically in front of the White House—a sea of pink hats and signs.
We made it clear that we will resist. Again and again and again.
Unfortunately, threats to women’s rights are not just escalating here in the U.S. I just returned from India, where the oppression against women keeps them out of public spaces. If Indian women “loiter,” walk or bike—or just enjoy being outside in public spaces in cities—they are often harassed or even brutally attacked. The India Women’s Marches were multi-city protests focusing on women’s rights to be safe in public spaces.
The same type of patriarchal, autocratic regime that appears to be rising here already existed in India and many countries— including China, Guatemala, Honduras, Philippines, Russia and Venezuela. Authoritarians have risen to power in those countries over the last decades, and democracy and women’s rights have suffered. It is no coincidence that such regimes have also placed our planet under attack. The degradation of the environment and democracy is intimately connected to the degradation of rights of women. Where women are held down, progress slows or backslides.
I have the great honor of leading the 24-year-old international nonprofit Global Greengrants Fund—one of the farthest reaching environmental and human rights foundations in the world. We believe in the voices of people whose lives are most impacted by environmental harm and social injustice. Every day, our global network of people on the frontlines and donors comes together to support communities to protect their ways of life and our planet—because when local people have a say in the health of their food, water and resources, they are forces for change.
Wherever women are oppressed, they suffer disproportionately from environmental degradation and the increasing threats of climate change. Yet women are generally stewards of the environment and have solutions. As I have said before—and as a sign at the D.C. Women’s March proclaimed—“Women will save the world!”