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    Press ReleaseIPU Logo-middle
No.202, Geneva/new York, 3 March 2005 IPU Logo-bottom


A total of 7 developing countries, with Rwanda in the lead, rank among the 17 top performers with more than 30 per cent of women parliamentarians, according to the new World Map of Women in Politics (2005) published by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) and the United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women (UNDAW).

Ten years after the Fourth World Conference on Women, (Beijing), progress has been steady but slow. Between 2000 and 2005, the proportion of members of parliaments in the world who are women has risen from 13.4 per cent to 15.7 per cent crossing for the first time ever the 15 per cent mark. In a major change since 2000, Rwanda now holds top place on the chart, with 48.8 per cent of women in the Lower House of parliament (and 34.6 per cent in the Upper House).

Presented on 3 March at the UN Headquarters (New York), on the occasion of the 49th session of the Commission on the Status of Women, the map is the result of a global survey conducted by the IPU that gathers data on the number of women in both the legislative and executive branches of government as of 1 January 2005. It is an update of a similar map published in 2000.

The case of Rwanda testifies to measures taken by post-conflict countries to ensure women’s participation in decision-making bodies. Rwanda’s constitution sets a minimum of 30 per cent for women in parliament and in the executive. Other post-conflict countries (Burundi, Afghanistan, Iraq) have followed suit, developing mechanisms to ensure that a minimum number of women take part in decision making bodies. The parliament of Sweden, where results have also improved since 2000, now has second place, closely followed by the other Nordic countries. The Rwanda-Sweden duo illustrates another general point that emerges from this year’s map: developing countries - Rwanda, Cuba, Costa Rica, Mozambique, Argentina, South Africa and Guyana - are almost as likely to be among the top performers as developed ones.

According to the President of the IPU, Chilean Senator Sergio Páez "the good results are an encouraging sign that national and international efforts to increase the number of women in politics are steadily but slowly paying off". At the same time, the IPU President warns that "the improvement is still well below the target of gender parity in the parliaments of the world. The IPU - through its Meeting of Women Parliamentarians and a host of technical assistance projects - will persevere in its efforts to make that target a reality".

The figures reveal that there has been a 17 per cent increase in the overall number of women members of parliament over the last five years. While that may sound promising, the IPU Secretary General, Anders B. Johnsson, points out that the road ahead promises to be long and arduous. "If 17 per cent going to be the norm for the medium term, then we will have to wait until 2025 for women’s overall representation in parliament to reach the critical mass of 30 per cent and until 2040 to achieve gender parity", he said, adding "I am not at all sure that either women or men will want to be that patient".

Doubling of the percentage of women MPs in the Arab world

The 2005 map also breaks down the data on women parliamentarians by region. The overall regional ranking remains essentially the same as in 2000, with the Nordic countries in the lead followed by the Americas, the rest of the European continent, Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, the Pacific area, and the Arab countries. This is clearly a reflection of the differing degree to which countries have come to adopt and implement pro-active gender parity policies over the years, ranging from the adoption of affirmative action measures to stronger sensitisation efforts and initiatives to promote women in politics.

Of the 58 countries that held elections in 2004 for the Lower Houses of Parliament, 49 show an increase in the percentage of women. The biggest increase was in Belarus. Tunisia, Niger, Uzbekistan and the Republic of Korea follow closely. These four countries have instituted affirmative action either in Parliament itself or in the party.

Although the 2005 regional ranking is similar to that of 2000, there have been some relative shifts. The biggest change entails the doubling of the percentage of women MPs in the Arab world (from 3.5 per cent to 6.5 per cent). Although only a few countries account for much of this improvement (for example, Morocco climbed from 4 women MPs to 38; Jordan from 3 women MPs to 13, Tunisia from 21 women MPs to 43), the upward trend is likely to continue with the results of elections in Iraq and of political reforms in a number of countries. However, the performance of the Arab region is still well below the world average and will therefore continue to require particular attention. Another robust improvement regionally can be seen in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Sweden and Spain on the top list of women ministers

To provide as complete a picture as possible of the role that women occupy in today’s political world, the 2005 map also presents data on the number of women in ministerial positions. Sweden, with 52.4 per cent of women ministers, tops the chart here together with Spain (50 per cent). This makes Sweden virtually the only country in the world that has fulfilled the principle of gender parity in politics. Predictably, there is considerable cross-over between the two rankings (ministers vs. parliamentarians) provided by the map. 46 countries have crossed the 20 per cent level of women in parliament compared to 44 for women in ministerial positions. Neither the legislature nor the executive is more favourable to women than the other – the key lies in changing political culture in general.

What is most disappointing in the data on women ministers is that they continue, for the most part, to be assigned social portfolios (e.g., children/women affairs, social affairs, education, health). Women are much less likely than men to occupy an economic portfolio, to be minister of defence, or to be their country’s top foreign affairs representative.

Concentration of women presiding officers in the Caribbean

Where the results of the 2005 map show the least progress compared to 2000 is at the level of heads of state or of government, and at the level of presiding officers of parliament. Women continue to meet serious obstacles on the way to the top positions of government. The count of women heads of state or government has actually declined in the last five years (from 4.7 per cent in 2000 to 4.2 per cent today). And the list of countries in which women are either presidents or prime ministers is very similar to that of five years ago, with the exception of Philippines and Mozambique.

Within parliaments, it remains disproportionately difficult for women to become presiding officers. Here too there is a slight deterioration since 2000 from 10.7 per cent to 7.5 per cent. Interestingly, women in developing countries and transition countries are actually more likely to be Speaker of Parliament than those in developed countries. Commenting on this, the IPU Secretary General noted the concentration of women Presiding Officers in the Caribbean. "We have just received information, unfortunately after the Map went to print, confirming that Antigua and Barbuda’s two chambers are headed by women. This brings the total, for January 2005, to 21 women presiding officers (i.e. 8.3 per cent). A third of these women Speakers come from Caribbean countries. The very low percentage of women in the highest positions of State is disappointing though. It confirms the persistent obstacles and cultural prejudices that many societies still nurture against women".

Fortunately progress continues and some positive changes can already be highlighted: for instance, Ukraine now has a woman prime minister. Since February 2005, Uruguay has a woman presiding officer of Parliament for the first time in its history. The future government, which will take office in March should include 3 women Ministers whereas the previous Government had none.

Established in 1889 and with its Headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, the IPU, the oldest multilateral political organisation, currently brings together 140 affiliated parliaments and seven regional assemblies as associate members. The world organisation of parliaments has an Office in New York, which acts as its Permanent Observer at the United Nations.
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