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    Press ReleaseIPU Logo-middle
No.220, Geneva/New York, 27 Februay 2006 IPU Logo-bottom


One fifth of parliamentarians elected in 2005 were women, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), which today is presenting its latest statistics on elections in single or lower chambers of parliament in the 39 countries that held parliamentary elections last year. In total, 20 per cent of legislators elected in single or lower chambers in 2005 were women. The President of the organization of the world's parliaments, Mr. Pier Ferdinando Casini, who is also the Speaker of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, has emphasized that last year was marked by continued progress and new records for women's participation in the political field.

The statistics of the IPU also reveal that by the end of 2005, an average of 16.3 per cent of members in the upper and lower houses of parliament were women, up from 15.7 per cent in December 2004. This trend confirms the sustained progress made since 1995, when the proportion of women in parliament stood at 11.3 per cent.

More parliaments reach the 30 per cent threshold

Increases in the ratio of women parliamentarians were registered in 28 of the 39 parliaments (72%). Significantly, in nine countries, more than 30 per cent of those elected or returned to parliament were women. Norway topped the ranks in 2005; some 37.9 per cent of those elected were women, placing it in third position behind Rwanda and Sweden in the global ranking (see table and analysis [PDF 129Kb]).

Both Denmark and Germany registered slight decreases in the proportion of women elected to parliament in comparison with the previous elections. In Denmark and Norway, women have held more than 30 per cent of parliamentary seats since the mid-1980s. This raises concerns as to whether these countries have reached a "ceiling" in terms of women's participation, and if so, how it might be overcome.

Andorra, Burundi, New Zealand and the United Republic of Tanzania are new to the list of countries where 30 per cent or more of legislators are women. New Zealand elected the highest number of women ever to its parliament. In the United Republic of Tanzania, the proportion of women elected to the legislature in 2005 reached an impressive 30.4 per cent. This result is noteworthy, as it the highest percentage of women ever achieved under a majority electoral system.

Significant increases and setbacks

The largest gains this year were seen in several Latin American countries and particularly Honduras - where the participation rose to 23 per cent. These gains are consistent with general trends in Latin American legislatures. Quotas have been implemented in Argentina, Bolivia, Honduras and Venezuela to promote the candidacies of women.

In Mauritius, the number of women in the parliament tripled from four to 12, which translates into an impressive gain (to 17,1 per cent of the membership). This followed in the wake of a concerted awareness-raising campaign by members of civil society and political parties to increase and strengthen the participation of women, advocating among other things the introduction of quotas.

A decrease in the number of women was observed in eight countries. In Egypt, women continued to face challenges in the electoral arena, with only 2 per cent of representatives elected in 2005 being women, a marginal decrease compared with the previous elections. In Bulgaria, Dominica and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, the percentage of women in parliament dropped. The greatest setback happened in Kyrgyzstan, where the proportion of women in parliament dropped to zero. This can be explained in part by the change in the country's institutional structure. Kyrgyzstan moved from a bicameral parliament to a unicameral parliament. With incumbent parliamentarians vying for fewer parliamentary seats, women faced an even bigger challenge.

The number of parliaments with no women increased during 2005. In the parliamentary renewals in Micronesia, Saudi Arabia and Tonga, no women gained seats in parliament, although one woman won a by-election in Tonga in May 2005. A total of nine countries, mainly Pacific Island States and Arab States in the Gulf region, had no women in their national parliaments as of December 2005. The lack of women in parliament in a large number of Pacific Island States may be explained by the absence of support networks and financial assistance for aspiring women candidates and by a traditional culture which does not encourage their political participation.

Positive results for States emerging from conflict

In 2005 elections were held to restore parliaments in four countries emerging from conflict: Afghanistan, Burundi, Iraq and Liberia. In all of these countries the percentage of women parliamentarians increased. In Afghanistan, Burundi and Iraq, constitutional drafting processes led to the introduction of electoral quotas and other mechanisms aimed at ensuring a certain level of women's participation in parliament and in governmental structures. In Afghanistan 27 per cent of legislators are women. In Burundi, the proportion of women in parliament jumped from 18.4 per cent to 30.5 per cent. In Iraq, women comprised more than 30 per cent of representatives after the January 2005 elections, but this figure dropped to 25 per cent after the December 2005 election. In Liberia guidelines were developed for political party candidacies in elections; they specified a 30 per cent quota for women on party lists. However, the political parties did not follow them as there were no sanctions for non-compliance. As a result, only 12.5 per cent of the candidates elected were women.

All four examples highlight the importance given to including women in post-conflict institution building. Despite the vast differences between the countries, they share certain commonalities – the intersection between domestic women's movements and the international community in supporting the election of women to parliament. These results confirm as well the trend whereby women vying for parliamentary seats in States emerging from conflict tend to fare better than they had prior to the conflict.

The question of quotas

Of the 39 counties that held elections in 2005 for lower or single houses of parliament, 15 implemented special measures, such as voluntary quotas (adopted by one or more political parties in New Zealand, Norway, Poland and Portugal), legislated political party quotas (Argentina, Bolivia, Burundi, Honduras, Liberia and Venezuela), and reserved seats or mandates (Afghanistan and the United Republic of Tanzania). The average ratio of women parliamentarians in countries that used quotas in elections during 2005 was nearly that of those without such special measures: 26.9 per cent as opposed to 13.6 per cent.

In the United Kingdom, before the elections, all political parties hotly debated the use of "all women shortlists". This is a practice whereby a number of local constituency parties must select their candidates from a list of female aspirant candidates. Only the Labour Party endorsed this practice, which was in large part responsible for the highest number of women ever being elected in the United Kingdom - 128, surpassing the previous high of 120 in 1997.

Quotas are not the only explanation of women's progress in the political field. They provide for a quantitative leap, but to attain the goal of effective gender equality in politics, quotas need to be accompanied by a series of other measures, which range from awareness-raising to the training of women and the development of gender-sensitive environments.

In addition to that, other elements which contribute to women's growing presence in parliament need to be factored in, including socio-economic development, political will, cultural evolution, and international assistance and support.

2005: An important step towards universal suffrage for women

The long struggle for full political rights for women in Kuwait finally met with success when on 16 May 2005 the all-male Kuwaiti parliament granted women the right to vote and stand for election. It is estimated that this will result in a majority female electorate for future polls - 195,000 of the estimated 339,000 voters registered during 2005 were women. Women will be able to participate in the parliamentary elections in 2007 and the local elections in 2009. This victory is indicative of an embryonic but largely positive trend regarding women's political participation in the Arab region. The struggle for the granting of political rights to women continues in Saudi Arabia, where an election law published in August 2005 did not explicitly ban women from voting in the 2005 municipal elections. In the end, though, women were excluded, officially because of "time constraints" and logistical considerations (such as the fact that only a fraction of Saudi women possess photo identity cards).

Women in top positions of power

The number of women presiding officers of parliament reached a high in January 2006. Women currently preside over 28 of the 262 parliamentary chambers (10.7%). Despite this relatively low figure, this reflects some progress. Only 7.2 per cent of presiding officers were women in January 2005. A third of the parliaments headed by women are found in the countries of the Caribbean, where women have presided over some parliaments for the past six years. Europe, too, fares well, with 10 women presiding officers. In 2005, women presided over parliamentary chambers for the first time in Albania, Burundi, New Zealand and Zimbabwe. New Zealand is an interesting example, as nearly all the top positions are currently held by women, including that of Prime Minister, Governor-General and presiding officer of parliament.

A quick look at the number of women heads of State or women holding the highest positions of government at the end of 2005 reveals a positive trend. In New Zealand, Helen Clarke assumed her third term as Prime Minister after forming a new Government in October 2005. In Europe, a record number of women held the top political offices, for example in Estonia, Finland, Ukraine, and Germany, where Angela Merkel became the country's first female Chancellor in November. The first elected female African head of State - Liberia's Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf - won a runoff election in November 2005. All told, 10 countries had women heads of State or Government in 2005. The year 2006 also begins on a positive note, with the election of Michelle Bachelet as the first woman president of Chile and the re election of Tarja Halonen as the President of Finland.

Meetings in New York on parliaments and gender equality

In order to strengthen the participation of women in politics, the IPU, pioneer in the field of promotion of partnership between women and men in politics, will hold two events at United Nations Headquarters in New York. On Monday, 27 February 2006, at 3 p.m. women Speakers of parliament will gather to discuss the situation of women in politics. Another meeting will take place on Wednesday, 1 March, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the Economic and Social Council (ECOSO) Hall; it will take stock of the contribution of parliaments in promoting gender equality.

Established in 1889 and with its Headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, the IPU, the oldest multilateral political organisation, currently brings together 143 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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