I will be taking footsteps with and for women worldwide.
We will be walking toward a world in which women shape their own lives — no matter who they are, where they live or whom they love. We will be walking toward a world free of sexual violence and free of child marriages. We will be walking toward a world without the barriers that block women from applying their intelligence and inventiveness in schools and workplaces. And, we will be walking to hasten a time when all women are finally in control of decisions about their bodies and their lives.
Making history is not a solitary activity, and we won’t be taking these footsteps alone. I will be walking with a community of Jewish friends who are committed to reaching a just world, grounded in our deep belief in the dignity and equality of all people. We will be walking with a much larger American and global community that understands that justice will only exist when women are completely and unquestionably free.
We will also be walking in solidarity with the courageous women AJWS supports in 19 countries in the developing world who are fighting for their rights today. I will be walking in solidarity with Julienne Lusenge, from Democratic Republic of Congo, who is stepping toward a world in which rape is no longer used as a weapon of war. Sitha Mark of Cambodia, who puts one foot in front of another to build a movement of women garment workers who refuse to be abused and underpaid in sweat shops in Phnom Penh. And Berta Carceres, of Honduras, who lost her life last year standing up to the builders of a mega dam that threatened to destroy the land and waters that thousands of indigenous men and women depend on for survival.
We will also be taking these footsteps along the paths made by generations of women who marched before we did. We understand that history is not linear, and sometimes we need to re-walk well-trod paths.
We will walk in the footsteps of Emma Goldman, the fiery Jewish radical feminist who took to the sidewalks of New York at the turn of the 20th Century to demand the end of all exploitation of women by men and the structures they had built that controlled women’s speech, sexuality and liberty.
We will walk in the footsteps of American Jewish feminists including Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem and others who questioned the stifling gender conformity of post-war American life, so aptly captured by the feminist Jewish poet Adrienne Rich — one of the most influential writers of the second half of the 20th century.
We will walk in the footsteps of countless Jewish women who demanded a role for themselves in Jewish communal life and shaping our future — by studying Torah, leading congregations and organizations, examining our history as scholars and rewriting it.
This week, as I march through the streets — as a Jewish man, a proud feminist and a believer that we have the power to make and change history — I will march in solidarity with women who have been my mentors in the Jewish community and beyond, as well as with women and men of every background who are moving us toward the kind of world we want to live in.
While the journey may be long and we don’t know how many steps are ahead — we must put one foot in front of the other and embark on our leg of that journey.
We cannot get there alone. We must all walk together.
Robert Bank is President and CEO of American Jewish World Service (AJWS), the world’s leading Jewish organization working to end poverty and promote human rights in the developing world.