Empowering Half the Sky: Celebrating Women's Equality Day in the US Air Force

  • Published
  • By Col. Valarie Long
  • 501st Combat Support Wing

In an Air Force that celebrates diversity and values inclusion, Women's Equality Day stands as a poignant reminder of the ongoing struggle for parity. This day, observed annually on August 26th, not only commemorates the passage of the 19th Amendment but also serves as a rallying call to recognize and address the multifaceted challenges that women continue to face in their pursuit of equal rights and opportunities.

When I embarked on my Air Force journey in 1993, I arrived at the Air Force Academy completely unaware of the path that had been forged at that institution since 1976 when the first women entered.  The first class with women had graduated only 13 years before I got there, yet it felt like we’d been there forever.  I don’t speak for all women, but I know that when I joined, I didn’t even have the vocabulary to begin to describe, let along address, the institutional barriers that limited women’s full participation in the Air Force.  There were so many challenges that remained at that time to create an Air Force that really does provide equal opportunities for women. 

Women in the Air Force in the ‘90s, when I joined, were making great strides toward equal opportunities to lead and fly.    Over the last decade, it’s been inspiring to cheer on and participate in some of the efforts across the Air Force that have led to positive changes.  Changes to parental leave, hair standards, and uniforms are some of the most visible improvements, but challenges remain in areas like childcare and support for dual-military and dual-working families, among other areas. 

I’ll leave you with three thoughts as we celebrate Women’s Equality Day this year.  First, Women’s Equality in the Air Force is not only a women’s issue, but it’s a men’s issue too.  Men's support for women's equality is a demonstration of solidarity and wingmanship.  Recognizing and advocating for gender equality showcases a commitment to social justice, and men's involvement in these efforts adds a powerful voice to the cause.

Second, creating equality for women in the Air Force requires institutional change, which is difficult but fully worthwhile.  Working from the inside to make any sort of change takes time and usually takes thick skin.  I’ve learned that, in the Air Force, you can make the most progress on an issue by demonstrating how the change we need will enhance force readiness and mission accomplishment. 

Finally, women’s equality creates stronger teams. When women have an equal voice, teams benefit from the richness of different viewpoints, which can lead to more innovative solutions, better decision-making, and a broader understanding of complex issues. Women also often bring different problem-solving strategies and communication styles, which can lead to more holistic and comprehensive solutions.  

As we commemorate Women’s Equality Day, it becomes clear that the road to full equality remains both challenging and necessary. While victories in areas such as parental leave, uniform standards, and opportunities for leadership are cause for celebration, the mission to achieve comprehensive gender equality requires unflagging commitment and institutional change. Men's steadfast support, alongside the dedication of women within the Air Force, underscores the collective aspiration for a force that is truly diverse, inclusive, and reflective of the values it upholds. By embracing these challenges and striving for equality, the Air Force not only strengthens its operational readiness but also fulfills its promise of honoring and empowering all who serve.