06/05/2013 08:39 am ET Updated Aug 05, 2013

More Women, More Progress

Having women in office certainly makes a difference! In 1991, Anita Hill accused Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment and there were no women on the Senate Judiciary Committee. In 2013, the Senate Armed Services Committee is investigating sexual assault in the military and there are seven women members of the committee. The contrast is startling. Only when women that "get it" are on the committee are women's concerns and experiences dealt with in a serious manner.

In 1991, women watched in horror as Hill was criticized, belittled, demeaned, and undefended by the all-male Senate committee. Working women knew that sexual harassment in the work place was commonplace and the responsibility of the victim to solve. The cry of the day was "We Believe Anita!" Women were furious at the senators because they demonstrated they "just don't get it" by brushing aside Hill's charges and attempting to make her the villain.

The resulting anger and the clear realization that women were virtually unrepresented in Congress resulted in "The Year of the Woman." A record number of women were elected to office in 1992, including four new Democratic women senators to join Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Nancy Kassebaum (R-KS).

EMILY's List was the focal point of that electoral success. Our membership grew seven-fold in the year following the Thomas-Hill hearings. That growth enabled EMILY's List to change from a small fundraising network into a full-service political organization that is adding more pro-choice, Democratic women to office with every election.

Today there are 20 women senators, sixteen of whom are Democrats. The women senators fight every day to represent women, insisting our interests and priorities are important. When Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Claire MacCaskill (D-MO) and the other women on the Senate Armed Services Committee challenge military leaders for their failure to stop sexual assault, they are telling our story and fighting for all women. They are making our democracy work better for our half of the population.

It makes a difference that they are there. As Sen. Bill Nelson told the New York Times, "When I raised the issue of rape in the military seven years ago, there was dead silence. Clearly they are changing things around here."

Yes, they are changing things. They are demonstrating that women have political power and the ability to hold people accountable. It's a vast improvement since the Thomas-Hill hearings.

Many of us look at Congress and are appalled by how dysfunctional it is. Yet here's an example where EMILY'S List members and others that strive to add women to office should take heart. Adding women to our legislative democracy can make Congress work better. I believe we would never see the partisan game-playing that horrifies us if half the members of Congress were women. And certainly those who abuse women... or allow it to continue... would be held accountable.

Women are still only 20 percent of the Senate. I and millions of EMILY's List members will continue to work hard to raise that to full equality. I think it's an issue of diversity and fairness. And I know our representative democracy will work better when that happens.