Lt. Col. Julia Kobiska, Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and XVIII Airborne Corps equal opportunity program manager, addresses the audience during the Fort Drum Women’s Equality Day observance Aug. 22 at the Commons. The program was hosted by the 10th Mountain Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team. (Photo by Mike Strasser, Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs)
Fort Drum community celebrates Women’s Equality Day
Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs
FORT DRUM, N.Y. (Aug. 23, 2109) – Women’s Equality Day celebrates the passage of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, giving women the right to vote, and pays homage to the many women and their supporters who campaigned tirelessly over several decades for that right.
Members of the Fort Drum community gathered Aug. 22 to recognize this historic achievement during an observance hosted by 2nd Brigade Combat Team at the Commons.
As guest speaker, Lt. Col. Julia Kobiska, Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and XVIII Airborne Corps equal opportunity program manager, said that it doesn’t seem that long ago when women were denied the right to vote.
“Just 99 years ago, women could not vote in this country. My grandmother was seven years old when her mother was first given that right,” she said. “But, women’s right to vote didn’t come easily.”
Kobiska said that the suffrage movement was born out of the abolitionist movement, which many of the women reformers had supported. While it is important to recognize some of the great leaders of the movement such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, Kobiska credits the many who supported the cause and persisted despite the backlash from those who opposed their efforts.
“Social change comes like a great, rising wave on the ocean – powerful, unyielding, sweeping history along in its path,” she said. “Great social change comes about because of a vast movement of many courageous people, both men and women, who refuse to back down against all odds.”
Kobiska said that the movement lasted more than 70 years, during which women were arrested, beaten, went on hunger strikes and were ridiculed for their belief in equality.
“All of these people were responsible for making our country stronger and moving one step forward in the quest for equality for all citizens when the 19th Amendment was finally passed in 1920,” she said. “But sadly, the right to vote brought neither total equality nor equal representation for women. Even today, 99 years later, women continue to struggle for complete equality and representation.”
Kobiska also reflected on the observance theme of “Expanding Opportunities for All” and said that even though amazing progress has been made in recent decades, further strides must be made. In political and corporate career fields, she said that female representation is severely lacking. On average, Kobiska said that women make 16 percent less income than their male counterparts.
“It doesn’t stop while actively employed,” she said. “Retired women are twice as likely as retired men to live in poverty. Eleven percent of women age 65 and older live below the poverty line, compared to 6.6 percent of men. Women of retirement age rely on a median income of $16,000 a year. Men’s median retirement income is $27,000 a year.”
She said that the Department of Defense has made leaps and bounds of progress to integrate women into jobs and assignments that were once unavailable to them on the basis of their sex. Also, men and women of equal rank receive the same salary.
“However, is there equality in promotions, schools and other opportunities? I encourage you to take an honest look at your units and do an assessment of whether there is true equality in opportunities,” Kobiska said. “It has been an immense pleasure to see the progress made in the past few years, but I’m here to tell you there is a long way to go and it’s up to us to make a difference.”
Kobiska said that qualified women may earn Ranger tabs and lead combat arms troops, but her perception is that they are still not treated equally.
“Though social media comments are not always the best basis for research, I’m of the opinion that it does provide a fairly valid assessment of the mindset of those around us,” she said. “I’m often disgusted by the despicable comments that I read on social media anytime an article about women’s achievements in the military is highlighted.”
She said that until sexism is eliminated wherever it exists – and the mentality that women are lesser than men in any way – there will never be true equality in the ranks.
“That culture change can only be accomplished through education and zero tolerance for inappropriate words and actions,” Kobiska said.
“So, today, celebrate women’s right to vote and expand opportunities for all, celebrate the accomplishments of the men and women who brought about social change,” she concluded. “But don’t let it end there. I challenge and encourage each of you to be part of the change moving forward to expand the rights for all. Be powerful, be courageous and be relentless and unyielding. Refuse to back down until sexism is eliminated and women are truly considered equal in the eyes of all.”