Flanked by Vice President Kamala Harris and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, President Joe Biden used International Women’s Day on Monday to celebrate his selection of two “outstanding and eminently qualified warriors and patriots” to serve in top posts as 4-star Combatant Commanders.
Biden has tapped General Jacqueline Van Ovost to be Commander of the United States Transportation Command, and Lieutenant General Laura Richardson to be Commander of the United States Southern Command.
“We need little girls and boys both, who have grown up dreaming of serving for their country, to know this is what generals in the U.S. Armed Forces look like," Biden said. "This is what Vice Presidents of the United States look like."
Should they be confirmed by the Senate, Van Ovost and Richardson would become the second and third women in U.S. history to lead a Combatant Command.
“At every step they've helped push open the doors of opportunity for women in the military,” Biden said of Van Ovost and Richardson, adding: “We all need to see and recognize the barrier breaking accomplishments of these two women … We need women and men throughout the ranks to see and celebrate women's accomplishments in leadership and the services."
Gen. Van Ovost currently serves as the commander of the Air Mobility Command at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois. Lt. Gen. Richardson is serving as commanding general of the U.S. Army North at Joint Base San Antonio in Texas.
"As it is International Women’s Day, I should also mention that Gen. Van Ovost and Lt. Gen. Richardson are but two of the many, many women who have defended our nation throughout our history," Harris said of the two women, later adding: "We also know that women want to serve, and that our military is stronger when they do."
During Monday’s event, Biden also pledged that his administration will put forward an “all hands on deck effort” to end sexual assault in the military, pointing to Austin’s first directive upon taking office as evidence of his commitment to the issue.
Upon being confirmed by the Senate in late January, Austin ordered his senior leaders to send him reports on sexual assault prevention programs in the military within two weeks, and an assessment of what has worked and what hasn’t.
First Lady of the United States Dr. Jill Biden also honored International Women's Day, speaking at a State Department event Monday morning honoring nearly two dozen "extraordinary women from around the world" recognized for their courage.
"Some of these women have spent their lives fighting for their cause," Dr. Biden said. Others are just starting out on a journey they didn’t ask for."
The group includes 7 Afghan women who received posthumous honors at the International Women of Courage (IWOC) Awards ceremony, which was held virtually this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Some were called to service, and some couldn’t escape it,” she continued. “They are fighting for their own lives and for their children. They want to right the wrongs of our past, to build a brighter future for everyone. They aren’t immune to fear. No one is."
"These women made an extraordinary choice, to persist, to demand justice, to believe that, despite the obstacles and fear they faced, there is a future worth fighting for," Dr. Biden added.
The White House also issued a statement from President Joe Biden, which said that today, "we celebrate the achievements, contributions, and progress of women and girls in the United States and around the globe."
"Women’s history is American history — and world history," Biden said in the statement.
International Women's Day is marked worldwide on March 8 as a day "celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women," as well as a day rallying for action for gender parity.
"In our nation, as in all nations, women have fought for justice, shattered barriers, built and sustained economies, carried communities through times of crisis, and served with dignity and resolve," Biden said in a statement. "Too often, they have done so while being denied the freedom, full participation, and equal opportunity all women are due. Their contributions have been downplayed. Their stories have been neglected.
"That is why International Women’s Day is also a time for us to recommit ourselves to the cause of equity and equality for women the world over, and to shine a light on the systemic obstacles that fuel gender disparities and undermine women’s potential," Biden continued.
The president touted the executive order he signed Monday creating the White House Gender Policy Council, "to ensure that every domestic and foreign policy we pursue rests on a foundation of dignity and equity for women."
"Elevating the status of women and girls globally is the right thing to do — it is a matter of justice, fairness, and decency, and it will lead to a better, more secure, and more prosperous world for us all," Biden concluded. "On International Women’s Day, let us recommit to the principle that our nation, and the world, is at its best when the possibilities for all of our women and girls are limitless."