The Women’s Equality Day observance on Fort Stewart paid tribute to the women who successfully fought for the right to vote.
Aug. 26 is recognized as Women’s Equality Day across the nation to commemorate the passing of the 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote.
A ceremony was held at Club Stewart in which military members and civilians gathered in solidarity for women’s equality. Lt. Col Tia Benning of the 63rd Expeditionary Signal Battalion was the keynote speaker.
“The main message is to pay tribute to the women who allowed us to be here today. It’s because of them that I am standing here today,” Benning said.
A tribute to pioneers and sacrifices
A video presentation was shown on the women’s suffrage movement. There was commentary on their struggle, sacrifices and efforts while fighting for women’s rights. There were also images of modern-day women, such as Oprah Winfrey for her contributions to the media, Hillary Clinton for politics and actress Angelina Jolie for her humanitarian work. The audience was challenged to imagine what the world would look like without these kinds of women and their achievements.
Sojourner Truth’s speech from the 1851 Women’s Rights Convention was played during the ceremony. A woman portrayed Truth delivering her speech. Another female role player came out as Susan B. Anthony, giving her speech on getting arrested for voting illegally.
“Although there is always more that can be done, I believe those women would take a moment to pause and celebrate achievements thus far,” Benning said. “As time passed, the power of the vote has afforded us the opportunity to not only care for the home, but to pursue careers in politics; in things that hold title of doctor, lawyer, teacher, professional athlete, astronaut, like Sally ride the first woman in space; and the combat veteran.”
Other female role players came out, dressed as people working in those occupations. They stood facing the audience to show the diverse careers women hold. Benning then named local women whose jobs support the community. They were Spc. Anna Denniston of the 514th Engineer Detachment, a firefighter on Fort Stewart; Capt. Johnetta Reid and Officer Tika Gant of the Hinesville Police Department; and Chief Magistrate Judge Melinda Anderson.
Then Benning said, “And finally we cannot forget those whose voices have been silent.”
The women turned to a missing-man table that represents fallen, missing and imprisoned service members, for a moment of silence. Benning said that as of December, 161 female soldiers died while supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. It was a tribute to them.
On women’s equality
Denniston said it is important for people to stay aware of women’s equality despite the advances women have made. When asked what’s next for women in light of the first female graduates of the Army Ranger School, Denniston responded, “Anything. Women can do anything.”
Becoming a firefighter was Denniston’s lifelong dream.
“I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to live up to the physical standards required to be a firefighter. But going through school, I was able to keep up with the men. The women I went to school with were able to keep up,” she said. “As a female going into a career that is really physical, as long as you can keep up with your co-workers — the males in school — that’s all that really matters. If you can do what the males can do, then I think every woman should be able to do whatever job they want.”
Denniston said she and the other women in her unit have been treated the same as the men.
To the new female Army Rangers, Benning said, “Do it. Continue to do it. Maintain the standards. Exceed the standards, but continue to do it. And I say, ‘Congratulations, they’ve earned it.’”
Paying it forward
“Take the time and give tribute to the ladies who gave their life’s work to this worthy cause,” she continued. “Take the opportunity to use what they’ve done — to vote. And then, if there’s something you want to do in life, get after it. Do it. Become a part of the team. Create something. Enhance something. I think that’s how you pay it forward.”