MARCH 2010

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World of Parliaments
Women in Politics

Women in Parliament in 2009: The Year in Perspective

A woman voting in South Africa.According to the statistics prepared by the IPU, the year 2009 was marked by continued progress for women in parliament. The global average for the proportion of women in parliament reached an all-time high of 18.8 percent.

In January 2010, there were more women Presiding Offi cers than ever before. Women held 35 (13.0%) of the 269 top posts in parliaments around the world. This is an improvement on the 1995 total, when 24 women held this post.

Women make up 30 per cent or more of the members in 44 parliamentary chambers – 26 single or lower and 18 upper houses. This is a six-fold increase over the 1995 total, when just seven chambers achieved this goal.

Figures at the regional level

Africa achieved some impressive gains for women in 2009. On average, 29 per cent of the seats renewed in the 10 chambers went to women, bringing the overall average there to 18.7 per cent at the end of 2009. This is nearly double the 1995 average of 9.8 per cent. In South Africa, women took 43.5 percent of the seats in the lower house election, placing it third in the global ranking. Europe continued to perform well, with 26 percent of the seats renewed in 2009 going to women. Similarly, the Americas maintained steady progress, with 25 per cent of the nearly 1,800 seats up for renewal going to women.

There were mixed results in 2009 for women in the Arab region. For the fi rst time, four women were elected to Kuwait’s parliament, but no women were appointed to the Consultative Council in Saudi Arabia. Nonetheless, the regional average of women parliamentarians is 9.5 per cent, more than double the 1995 rate of 4.3 per cent.

15 years of progress

In 1995, at the Fourth World Conference on Women, the Beijing Platform for Action called on States to increase women’s participation in decision making and leadership and to ensure women’s full participation in political life. At that time, women held 11.3 per cent of parliamentary seats. In just seven chambers (3%) women comprised more than 30 per cent of the membership, and nearly two-thirds of all chambers had 10 per cent or less women members. At the leadership level, 24 women held the post of Presiding Officer in parliament. Women constituted just 6.4 per cent of Heads of State or Government.

Taking stock 15 years later, the parliamentary landscape has changed markedly. A new global high for women in parliament is heralded at the close of each year. By the end of 2009, the global average for the proportion of women members reached an all-time high of 18.8 per cent – a gain of 75 per cent compared to 1995. The number of chambers that have reached the 30 per cent target now stands at 44 (26 single/ lower and 18 upper houses), or 16.7 per cent of the total. The number with a membership of 10 per cent or less women has halved from 141 in 1995 to 71 in 2009 (27%).

However, it is clear that challenges to women’s political empowerment remain. In several parliaments there have only ever been a handful of women, and the number of parliamentary chambers where no women hold seats has not dropped dramatically (from 13 in 1995 to 10 in 2009). Women’s advancement into leadership positions has been at a much slower pace than the improvement in parliamentary access. Although an increase from 24 in 2005 and the highest number reached thus far, there are still only 35 women Presiding Offi cers at the helm of parliaments.

Comparative Situation of Women Parliamentarians, 1995 and 2009




11.3% Proportion of seats held by women in all houses 18.8%
7 out of 229 (3,0%)
- 5 single or lower houses
- 2 upper houses
Chambers with 30% or more women members 44 out of 263 (16,7%)
- 26 single or lower houses
- 18 upper houses
141 out of 229 (61,6%) Chambers with 10% or less women members 71 out of 263 (27,0%)
13 Chambers with no women members 10
24 (10,5%) Women Presiding Offi cers 35 (13,0%)
12 (6,4%) Countries with women Head of State and/or Government 16 (8,3%)

Parliamentary renewals in 2009

During 2009, 54 parliamentary chambers in 48 countries were renewed. Women took 1,886 of the 9,143 seats renewed, or 20.6 per cent. This is the same proportion as in 2008. Of the women who gained seats, 1,804 were directly elected, 70 were indirectly elected and 12 were appointed.

44 chambers surpass 30%, and 11 surpass 40%, women members

Increases in women’s participation were registered in 57 per cent of the chambers renewed in 2009. Ten chambers achieved 30 per cent or greater female membership in their 2009 renewals, bringing to 44 the number of chambers that have reached this milestone – five more than a year ago. Three chambers surpassed 40 per cent women members – Iceland and South Africa’s single/lower houses and Bolivia’s upper house. The range of 30 per cent-plus chambers is diverse and includes 16 in Europe, 13 in the Americas, 11 in Africa and four in the Asia-Pacific region. New to the list in 2009 were Bolivia and Ecuador after both countries adopted electoral gender quotas with enforcement mechanisms. Several lower houses came close to achieving the 30-per cent target, including Mexico, Namibia and Portugal.

Stagnation and setbacks in 40% of the chambers renewed in 2009

Although women increased their overall share of seats in 2009, a breakdown of the results shows that such gains need to be considered together with stagnation and even reversals in some parliaments. In nine of the chambers (17%) renewed, no progress was made and the proportion of women members remained unchanged. Worse, reversals were registered in 14 (26%) of the chambers renewed, leading to fewer women compared to the previous renewal.

In three chambers, no women were included in the 2009 renewals: the Comoros, the Federated States of Micronesia and Saudi Arabia. In the Comoros, there has only ever been one woman elected to parliament. The election in the Federated States of Micronesia was the only one to take place in the Pacifi c in 2009. There has never been a woman candidate for parliament in Micronesia. There has never been a woman member of the Consultative Council in Saudi Arabia, where all members of the Council are appointed by the King and there is no universal suffrage. A trend of stagnation and reversals in 40 per cent of the parliaments renewed has been recorded for the past six years.

Electoral systems alone do not determine the level of representation of women, but they are important because they can be changed and amended to accommodate the implementation of special measures. Gender-sensitive electoral arrangements and political will at the highest levels are paramount for overcoming the imbalances in the world’s parliaments.


Women Presiding Officers in Parliament

On 1 January 2010, women held 35 (13.0%) of the 269 Presiding Offi cer posts in parliaments around the world, the highest number reached. This is nearly double the 2005 total, when such posts were held by 18 women. The post is important as it is the highest position of power in a parliament. Women are slowly making inroads in this area, which has historically been dominated by men. In addition to playing a facilitating role in the chamber by moderating debates between rival political groups, Presiding Offi cers are well-placed to highlight outside the chamber the problem of gender inequality and to promote the interests of women.

In 2009, women took up Presiding Officer posts for the fi rst time in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Bulgaria, Gabon, Ghana, India and Lithuania.

25 Presiding Officers in single or lower houses of parliament

Albania (People’s Assembly); Antigua and Barbuda (House of Representatives); Austria (Nationalrat); Bosnia and Herzegovina (House of Peoples); Botswana (National Assembly); Bulgaria (Naradno Schranie); Dominica (House of Assembly); Estonia (Riigikogu); Gambia (National Assembly); Ghana (Parliament); Iceland (Althingi); India (Lok Sabha); Lesotho (National Assembly); Lithuania (Seimas); Pakistan (National Assembly); Romania (Chamber of Deputies); Rwanda (Chamber of Deputies); Saint Lucia (House of Assembly); Serbia (Narodna Skupstina); Switzerland (National Council); Turkmenistan (Mejlis); United States of America (House of Representatives); Uzbekistan (Legislative chamber); and Venezuela (Asamblea Nacional).

11 Presiding Officers in upper houses of parliament

Antigua and Barbuda (Senate); Bahamas (Senate); Belize (Senate); Gabon (Senate); Grenada (Senate); Netherlands, (Twede Kamer der Staten Generaal); Saint Lucia (Senate); Swaziland (Senate); Switzerland (Council of States); United, Kingdom (House of Lords); and Zimbabwe (Senate).

Ministerial positions

For women in the Executive and Heads of State, overall progress is even slower than at the parliamentary level. As shown in the World Map, women account for just nine out of the 151 elected Heads of State (6%) in 2010, up from just eight women leaders in 2005.

On average, women hold 16 per cent of ministerial posts. In total, 30 countries have more than 30 per cent women members, with Cape Verde, Finland, Norway and Spain achieving over 50 per cent women ministers. At the other end of the spectrum, the number of countries with no women ministers has increased — from 13 in 2008 to 16 in 2010. The majority of these States are found in the Arab region, the Caribbean and the Pacifi c Islands.

Compared with 2008, there is more diversification in terms of the portfolios held by women. As with previous years, however, women tend to dominate portfolios related to social affairs, children and youth, women’s affairs, and increasingly the environment.


Three women at the helm in Switzerland

Ms Pascale Bruderer, Speaker of the Swiss National Council

In the history of Swiss politics, 2010 will go down unquestionably as the year of women as three of them hold the highest offi ces in the country: Doris Leuthard is the current President of Switzerland, Pascale Bruderer is the Speaker of the National Council (Lower House of Parliament) and Erika Forster-Vannini is the President of the State Council (Upper House). This in a country that only granted women the right to vote and stand for offi ce in 1971 at the federal level, while at the cantonal level, Appenzell (Inner Rhoden) granted women the suffrage as late as 1990.

Ms. Bruderer will also preside over the Sixth Meeting of Women Speakers of Parliament, which will be held in Bern this summer, on the eve of the 3rd World Conference of Speakers of Parliament, organized under the auspices of the IPU from 19 to 21 July at the United Nations Offi ce at Geneva.

Although Swiss women only started becoming active in politics relatively late, they managed to make up for lost time and are now making their voices heard at the highest level of this multilingual and multicultural country. The presence of Pascale Bruderer (32 years old) at the helm of the National Council is but one example of this. During an interview given at the House of Parliaments a few months ago, she admitted that she had learned a lot from her meeting with the Women Speakers of Parliament in Vienna last year. “These women Speakers, from different walks of life, from developed and developing countries, are faced with very different situations”.

In Vienna, the Women Speakers and Deputy Speakers agreed that violence against women was an issue that affected them all. “What we can do, at the level of parliaments, is to pass laws that guarantee better protection against violence, but that is not enough. We must also place the emphasis on prevention, so that people understand that this problem is not just a private matter. After all, violence occurs as much in the street as in the home”, added Ms. Bruderer.

When asked if the Swiss parliament was gender-sensitive, this was her reply: “I would like to say yes. It is in some ways, but better solutions have to be found. And if we want to change the reality of the situation, we need the means to do it “. Pascale Bruderer is of the opinion that a gender- sensitive budget is a key factor and the presence of women in parliament is another.

From left to right: Ms. Erika Forster-Vannini, President of the State Council, Ms. Doris Leutard, President of Switzerland, and Ms. Pascale Bruderer, Speaker of the National Council.“We need visible examples in order to motivate young women and encourage them to become interested in political issues. The year 2010 is significant, because the visibility of women presiding over both chambers of the federal parliament and a woman President shows women that we can make things happen by holding the highest offi ces in the country”.

Pascale Bruderer is keen on continuing the dialogue with young women. “Sometimes we think that we will never be able to be in politics. I try to show young people that being a politician is not something far removed from people, but that politics is part of our day-to-day life and that it can change the daily reality of citizens. The fact of whether or not there will be a school in a given neighbourhood is a political question. I want to show that anyone can become interested in politics,” concluded the young Speaker of the Swiss National Council, who is also very attentive to the cause of the disabled.