By Brenda Law
U.S. Africa Command Public Affairs
International Women’s Day – what is it, why do we have it, and who cares?
Imagine a world without modern medicine, technology, access to education, or even clean drinking water. Every advancement in human history has been made because someone recognized the need to do something better.
International Women’s Day is an opportunity to celebrate a lot of those advancements — contributions by women who have made, and continue to make life better for people all around the world.
U.S. Africa Command celebrated International Women’s Day March 10 at the Kelley Theater on Kelley Barracks.
U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Steven Hummer, AFRICOM deputy to the commander for Military Operations, provided opening comments and noted that education was key for helping women to achieve equality. Quoting Brigham Young, Hummer said, “You know the saying, ‘You educate a man; you educate a man. You educate a woman; you educate a generation.’”
International Women’s Day, established by the UN in 1975, is celebrated annually on March 8 as “a day when women are recognized for their achievements without regard to divisions, whether national, ethnic, linguistic, cultural, economic or political. It is an occasion for looking back on past struggles and accomplishments, and more importantly, for looking ahead to the untapped potential and opportunities that await future generations of women,” according to the WomenWatch website, an initiative of the UN’s Inter-Agency Network on Women and Gender. The theme for 2014 is “Equality for women is progress for all.”
The U.S. Africa Command event was anything but routine. Those in attendance were treated to a program of inspiring personal stories of triumph, musical performances, and a mini-film festival that entertained as well as educated the audience about the contributions of women, some well known, other less so, who at great risk braved the status quo to serve as agents of change for a better world.
The event was sponsored and produced by the AFRICOM’s Women, Peace, and Security Working Group, lead by Dr. Barbara Sotirin, J5 deputy director for Programs. The group conducted a contest and invited the local military and civilian community to submit essays describing a woman who had either inspired them, helped raise awareness of, or helped advance women’s issues.
Each of the three winning essayists read their submissions. Army Col. Melvin Jones, AFRICOM assistant chief of staff (Reserves), wrote an essay about his daughter, LaTrisha, and how she has inspired him by working hard against the odds to achieve excellence, and how she now inspires others to be the best they can be.
“She blossomed in the JROTC program as she went from being afraid to ask questions to becoming a company commander and the command sergeant major. Under her tenure, the Ansbach JROTC program numbers skyrocketed to over 70 percent of the school population with many of the younger cadets wanting to become the next LaTrisha,” wrote Jones.
A member Stuttgart community, Simone Rivers, who also gave a dramatic reading of Sojourner Truth’s famous, “Ain’t I A Woman,” wrote in her essay that she was inspired by women working together. Comparing women to quilting squares, she wrote, “Alone they do very little covering, but together, with other pieces, we create a beautiful tapestry of warmth and covering for the world.”
Raising awareness about women warriors was the subject of the essay written by AFRICOM Air Force Maj. Tamara Schoon. She talked about increasing the visibility of wounded women veterans to that of men.
“When our fellow citizens see a man with a missing limb, they may assume he was a veteran and be inclined to ask what happened. On the other hand, when a woman has an injury, most people would never assume or ask if they were a veteran and just assume it was a car accident or anything other than combat. I’d like to change that,” wrote Schoon.
After the program, Schoon added that she’d like to one day see March 28 declared as World Women Veteran’s Day because in the U.S., March is already recognized as Women’s History month, but with International Women’s Day also in March, she’d like to see women veterans from countries around the globe honored for their contributions to their own militaries.
Poetry was also part of the program, with Army Lt. Col. Erick Young, AFRICOM assistant inspector general, reading a poem by J.D. “Flipper” Harper, called “Let’s Help as We Pass By,” in honor of his mother.
Reflections on International Women’s Day and how this day has made an impact on U.S. Africa Command were offered by Dr. Liza Briggs, a social scientist with AFRICOM’s Social Science Research Branch, who said, “We all have a perspective on gender, and issues that affect gender are really human issues. In the last two years, here at U.S. Africa Command, I’ve seen ‘gender issues’ developed included as scenarios as part of the exercises we help conduct.”
Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Tracey Garrett, AFRICOM special assistant to the commander, closed the program, saying, “There are over a thousand personnel assigned to our headquarters here, and only about 100 people were able to attend this celebration today. But it’s important to remember that many advances we’ve seen in improved quality of life for people around the world were made because just a few brave women took a stand to make a difference. As I read recently in a book by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, women hold up ‘half the sky.’ We have an opportunity to be part of that mission.”