It's Women’s History Month, a time when I think of the trailblazers who paved the way to give women like myself the opportunity to serve.
I think of several Illinois women, like Jane Addams, who was the first American woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize and was the founder of the Hull House in Chicago, which helped lift women and families out of poverty.
I’m also reminded of Lydia Moss Bradley, the founder of Bradley University in Peoria. And Winnifred Huck, the first Illinois woman to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives.
These women, along with so many others, inspired greatness, challenged our thinking and helped give women like me the courage and conviction to pursue our dreams.
Without the strong support of family and friends, I wouldn’t be the first woman to represent our region of Illinois in Congress.
Both my parents were public servants. Following their example, I spent the first 17 years of my professional life as a journalist, covering City Hall, police and business and uncovering government corruption, political wrongdoing and shenanigans.
Later, I sought to take leadership in my community and served on the East Moline City Council, and various other civic and community groups.
I now feel blessed to be a part of a new Congress than includes more women than ever. There are 98 women in Congress: 20 in the Senate and 78 in the House. While this represents great progress, it’s only 18 percent of Congress at a time when women make up slightly more than half of the American population.
Fortunately, what we lack in numbers, we make up for in resolve. Each of us brings a unique perspective, a passion for creating positive change and especially among the freshmen members of Congress, a willingness to work together. We know, without a doubt, that is how we will move our country forward.
One example of this willingness to work together is the Violence Against Women Act, which was recently strengthened and reauthorized with broad bipartisan support in Congress, after failing to pass last Congress. This bill will help better protect women and children from domestic abuse and violence. I hope the willingness to work together on this bill is an indication of more bipartisanship to come.
If I have one message for all the young women out there during Women’s History Month, it is this:
Think big and dream big. Get involved. Help others. And don't ever lose your confidence that you can be the one to make the difference.
Cheri Bustos represents Illinois' 17th Congressional District. She lives in East Moline with her husband, Gerry.