• Luncheon recognizes Women's Equality Day

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  • Christopher Burnett | Staff Writer
    Maj. Gen. Maria Gervais, deputy commanding general for Combined Arms Center – Training, was the keynote speaker for the 2017 Women’s Equality Day luncheon Aug. 14 at Frontier Conference Center.
    Gervais began her remarks by stating the importance of Women’s Equality Day and spoke about the turning point in the 70-year struggle for equal treatment of women. She said it was in August 1920 that Congress ratified the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution granting women the right to vote.
    “This amendment did more than just give women the right to vote,” Gervais said. “It set the stage for change to take place in America.”
    Gervais said the effect of the 19th Amendment on the lives of women in the 21st century became clear to her following a chance meeting with author Maija Rhee Devine. She said Devine, author of the book “The Voices of Heaven,” who struck up a conversation with her about being female in Korean society.
    “I call it fate, bringing us together. Three weeks ago I was concluding a trip to Washington, D.C. I had just had a day and a half of meetings in the Pentagon,” Gervais said. “Thirty-thousand steps on my Fitbit in one day. Lots of meetings. Lots of engagements.”
    Gervais said when she boarded the aircraft for her return flight, her motivation was to reflect upon the meetings, make plans and relax.
    “I put on my noise-canceling headphones and began typing up taskers to my staff,” she said.
    Gervais said Devine tapped her shoulder and engaged her in conversation. She said Devine asked several questions about what she was doing.
    “She tapped me on my shoulder a third time and asked if I knew how lucky I was to be able to wear the uniform,” Gervais said. “As she talked with me about how fortunate I was, clarity came when she shared her story.”
    Gervais said Devine told of growing up a girl in Korean society during the Korean War. She said boys were more valued because they continued the family bloodline.
    “I was humbled by how she wanted to talk with me and how proud she was of me,” Gervais said. “Her story included how things have improved in her culture, but also how she has lived with the burden of being born a girl and not having (equal access to) opportunities.”
    Gervais said Devine told her that she loved America because it provides equal access to opportunities for all citizens based on the individual’s ability to serve.
    “It has been 97 years since the 19th Amendment was signed into law, and our country has made incredible strides,” Gervais said. “46.9 percent of the U.S. labor force is women, 29 percent of all U.S. enterprises are women-owned firms — this equates to over 8.6 million women-owned businesses — generating over $1.3 trillion in revenue and employing approximately 7.8 million people.”
    Page 2 of 2 - Gervais said the Army is a leader in ensuring equal opportunity within its ranks. She said the role of women has expanded during each era to now having the opportunity to serve in all Army occupations.
    “We have seen women receive some of the highest honors for actions in combat and ascend to the highest ranks,” Gervais said. “The number of women in the senior executive positions is at its highest point in the last five years.”
    Gervais said humanity must continue to strive to provide women across the world with equal opportunities regarding education and employment. She said this effort includes the fight against suppression, violence against women and discrimination.
    “We came together today to observe Women’s Equality Day, celebrate a woman’s right to vote, and acknowledge the opportunities that now exist for women in our country and our Army,” she said.
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