JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas –
Madhu Sridhar, president of the League of Women Voters of the San Antonio area, addressed members of the Army’s 106th Signal Brigade on the history of women’s voting rights in the U.S. and about the importance of voting during the Women’s Equality Day Observance Aug. 23 at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston.
The Women’s Equality Day Observance, which was held at the Fort Sam Houston Theater and hosted by the 106th Signal Brigade, marks the passage of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution Aug. 18, 1920, which granted the women the right to vote. Women’s Equality Day was established by Congress in 1971 and is observed Aug. 26.
Sridhar said the movement that led to the ratification of the 19th Amendment started 72 years earlier with the first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, N.Y., in 1848.
“The right to vote came after decades of massive grassroots and peaceful civil rights efforts,” Sridhar said. “It’s a true testament to the power that women have when they come together, organize and fight for a cause.”
Observing Women’s Equality Day is a time to reflect on how far women have come in advancing their rights and assess how far they still need to go, Sridhar said.
She cited a study done by the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University in New Jersey to show the growing influence of women voters. According to the study, the number of eligible female voters in the U.S. who said they voted in the 2016 election was 63.3 percent, compared to 59.3 percent for eligible men.
In addition, the number of female voters who are registered to vote in the U.S. has grown from 55.7 million in 1980 to 83.8 million in 2016. The number of women registered voters in 2016 was 10 million more than for men at 73.8 million.
But Sridhar said many eligible voters, men and women, are not exercising their right to vote, especially in Texas. During the 2012 election, less than 8 million of the 18.3 million Texas residents who were of voting age cast ballots.
“Our challenge is voter apathy,” she said. “A representative democracy requires active participation, active engagement of its citizens. And if we don’t participate, democracy doesn’t work.”
Sridhar said women have played a role in the military since Deborah Sampson disguised herself as a man to fight in the Revolutionary War. She noted the thousands of women who served in both World War I and World War II and the advancements women continue to make in the military, including being able to serve in combat and becoming Army Rangers.
“Today women account for approximately 15 percent of active-duty military personnel, 17 percent of active-duty officers and 15 percent of enlisted service members are women,” Sridhar said. “There’s not a more exciting time than now to be a women in the military and in the United States. Many of you have chosen to put on the uniform and serve the United States to protect our freedoms and preserve our democracy.
“The right to vote is the foundation of this democracy,” she added. “Without you, the right to vote and exercise that freedom would not be possible. I thank each of you.”
Noting that it was her first time to observe Women’s Equality Day with military service members, Sridhar said she was honored by the invitation of 106th Signal Brigade to speak. She said JBSA-Fort Sam Houston is a special place for her because it is where her daughter took the oath to become an officer in the Navy Reserve.
Spc. Takoyia Branham, 106th Signal Brigade information technology specialist, said she learned a lot from Sridhar’s speech.
“She gave me a lot of knowledge of things that I didn’t know about,” Branham said. “I didn’t think we were leading the men in voting since 1980. She gave a few key points that I really liked a lot, and she was funny.”