06/06/2013 10:44 am ET Updated Aug 06, 2013

More Women in U.S. Senate Puts Sexual Assault in Military Front and Center

For years, sexual assault in the military has remained a shameful and all-too-common secret. But thanks to the extraordinary women now in the U.S. Senate, it has finally been brought to the forefront of American political consciousness. Surprisingly, and unlike most issues debated in Congress, eradicating sexual assault in the military has been met with support across party lines, and thus has the rare potential for real progress.

What's different this time?

The answer is women. The New York Times this week showcased the unique impact of women in this struggle by pointing out women's increased involvement in the most important Congressional committees (which were overwhelmingly male in the past), including the Committee on Armed Forces. Of its 26 members, seven are women -- the largest critical mass in history -- determined to make their voices heard.

While male senators have typically focused on traditional aspects of the military, such as weapons, equipment, etc., women have addressed the equally important issues of mental health and improving much-needed support for military families. And despite the ongoing polarization between political parties in Washington, women in this case have united across the aisle to question how the military handles sexual and gender-based violence. Consequently, with a better balance of men and women, these hearings are yielding real results and are focused on getting to meaningful, systemic change.

This dramatic shift is exactly why Women Donors Network (WDN), through a new initiative called Women United For, is focusing on amplifying women's voices and elevating women's leadership to work in partnership with men on the important issues of the day. We believe that shared decision-making power between women and men, across all sectors of our society, is a crucial step to advance a more just, equitable and sustainable world for all.

Over the past two years, Women Donors Network has made smart and catalytic investments to make a transformative difference on key issues. Within this issue of rape in the military, last year WDN raised $120,000 to become an executive producer of The Invisible War, a shocking documentary about the prevalence of sexual violence within the armed forces. WDN also was the first funder of UltraViolet, a new online organizing community of nearly 500,000 women and men fighting sexism at all levels, which has been very active in pushing the issue of sexual assault in the military forward, among other key issues. We will build on this track record through Women United For, seeking to find crucial gaps and levers where our nimble investment can make a transformative difference in getting to parity for women.

Women in leadership at all levels have the remarkable capacity to improve the lives of women and their families through collaboration, a desire for structural change, and dogged determination. We need women to lead us in partnership with men not only because they see our final destination, but also because they know the best path to get there.