Inter-Parliamentary UnionIPU Logo-top
    Press ReleaseIPU Logo-middle
No.155, Geneva, 5 March 2003 IPU Logo-bottom


"Political will is indispensable for steady progress in women's participation in parliament. Modern societies will only be more humane and more equitable when all of their subjects are actively involved in the decision-making process", said the President of the IPU Council, Chilean Senator Sergio Páez, on the occasion of the International Woman’s Day (latest statistics is available on the IPU Website).

Although it may appear modest, the percentage of the world's parliamentarians who are women, amounting to 14.8% in January 2003, is a sign of progress. Despite what appears to be a very slow increase over the past five years, a close look at the latest IPU graphs and statistics gives ground for hope. The data presented shows developments in 50 countries where elections were held in 2002 as well as comparative regional and world data. It reveals that only a few countries now have less women MPs than before and that most regions of the world have registered progress, the most significant changes coming from the Nordic countries and the Arab world.

Nordic countries and Arab countries: steady progress at their own levels

The top of the chart has traditionally been occupied by the Nordic countries which show the highest regional level, averaging 39.9% of women in parliament. In this group, Sweden, the leader, has managed to improve its score by a 2.6 percentage point increase : women now account for 45.3% of parliamentarians in the Swedish Riksdagen whereas they represented 42.7% of parliamentarians in the previous legislature. Despite showing the lowest regional average, the Arab countries have consolidated their move towards gender equality in politics. In Morocco, women now account for 10.8% of the lower House: a 10 percentage point leap. In Algeria, women MPs have doubled from 12 to 24, a 3.3 percentage point increase to reach 6.2% of women MPs.

But beyond figures, there is encouraging evidence of a new political will to ensure women's presence in the political field. Morocco's progress came about after the introduction of a quota in parliament reserving 30 seats for women. In Bahrain, for the first time, women were able to vote and stand as candidates in a national poll. Though no women won seats, 8 stood for election and two made it to the second round. In Djibouti, the quota law stipulating that every party had to present at least 10% of candidates of both sexes was adopted in December 2002. The results of the 2003 elections saw the unprecedented arrival of 7 women in parliament, accounting for more than 10% of the newly elected parliamentarians. In Jordan, the electoral law was amended, in view of this year's elections, to reserve 6 seats to women in the Lower House of the Majlis.

More substantial increase for developing countries than Western democracies

In Western democracies the trend is uneven although generally disappointing. There was no change in New Zealand where parliament fell just short of the 30% of women parliamentarians seen as a threshold for women to have an impact on politics; only 0.2 percentage points more for the United States (where 14.3% of legislators are women); +1.2 points for Ireland (with 13.3% of women MPs) and Germany, although, at 32.2%, the number of women MPs is much higher; and 1.3 points more for France (with 12.2% of women MPs). Austria is doing better with +7.1 points (with 33.9% of women MPs). In the Netherlands, the 2002 elections resulted in a 2-points drop for women in parliament, in comparison with the previous legislature. However elections held soon after in 2003 have made good this loss. The 36.7 percent of women now in parliament in the Netherlands is the highest ever reached.

Significantly enough, developing countries record more substantial increases: +12.3 points for Guinea (with 19.3% of women MPs), +11.2 points for Gambia (with 13.2% of women MPs) , + 7.9 points for Lesotho (with 11.7% of women MPs). With a 15.8-points increase, Costa Rica crosses the 30% threshold - 35.1% of its parliamentarians are women. Eastern European countries show encouraging signs of progress as well: + 10.8 points for the FYR of Macedonia (with 18.3% of women MPs); + 7.1 for Bosnia and Herzegovina (with 14.3% of women MPs); + 6.7 for Slovakia (with 19.3% of women MPs).

Strong political will necessary

The country to have made the greatest progress in women's representation in parliament is Pakistan. Its first elections since the October 1999 coup have seen the arrival of 72 women, an 18.7 percentage point increase (with 21.1% of women MPs). This is partly the result of a new quota law reserving 60 seats for women in the National Assembly. The wider use of affirmative action measures highlights the more pro-active approach taken by political authorities to tackle women's low showing in politics. As mentioned above, quota laws were introduced in several countries, including in Morocco, Djibouti and Jordan. Recently, Indonesia passed a bill ordaining that at least 30% of parliamentary candidates must be women. Amendments to the electoral law are also under consideration in Slovakia and envisaged in Hungary.

Nevertheless the efficiency of such laws and action varies. In France, the parity law, adopted in 2000, states that parties failing to ensure that half their candidates are women receive lower State subsidies. The results of the French elections which saw a mere 1.3 percentage point increase for women (reaching 12.2% of women MPs), demonstrate that these measures are insufficient if they are not accompanied by a strong political will and strong gender-sensitivity among parties and voters.

Many countries that held elections in 2002 have therefore focused on the implementation of awareness-raising campaigns amongst voters regarding gender issues, and amongst women to encourage them to exercise their right to vote. In Pakistan, encouraging women to stand as candidates and to vote has been an important struggle in more conservative parts of the country, where female participants have had to defy local rulings that prohibited them from voting. In Lesotho, education campaigns and workshops were held to sensitise women and men to adopt a more gender-balanced political approach. Similar initiatives have also been carried out in Slovakia.

Fewer women at the top

In general, male presiding officers of parliament continue to predominate: only 22 out of the 249 presiding officers (of both lower and upper houses) are women, most of them in developing countries. Last year, women accounted for 24 of the 244 presiding officers.

Established in 1889 and with its Headquarters in Geneva, the IPU, the oldest multilateral organisation, currently has 144 affiliated national parliaments and five regional assemblies as associate members. The organisation of the world's parliaments also has a Liaison Office with the United Nations in New York.
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