Of all the legislators in parliament around the world, 17.7 per cent are women, an all-time high. In 1995, only 11.3 per cent of all parliamentary seats were held by women. The Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) today presents its latest statistics on women in parliament following renewals in 63 countries (78 chambers of parliament) during 2007.
Increases in the number of women were registered in 58 per cent of the cases, with women winning 16.9 percent of all parliamentary seats up for grabs in 2007. Of the women who won seats, 1,764 were directly elected, 116 were indirectly elected, and 133 were appointed.
In 20 per cent of the chambers renewed, women's representation remained the same as in the previous legislature. Worse still, in 22 per cent of the chambers renewed, fewer women members gained seats. When the overall gains women made in 2007 are considered together with the stagnation and reversals in some countries, it becomes clear that there is little room for complacency when it comes to improving women's access to parliaments. Commenting on the findings, IPU Secretary General Anders B. Johnsson said that they gave reason for cautious optimism “but at this rate, we will not achieve parity in parliament before 2050”.
More parliaments exceeding the 30% critical mass
As a result of the 2007 elections, women gained 30 per cent or more of the seats up for renewal in 13 chambers. Interestingly, four parliaments can boast today more than 40 percent women membership. Joining Rwanda and Sweden who have been in the lead for several years now, Argentina elected 40 per cent of women in its Lower House and Finland increased its numbers, reaching 41.2 per cent of women. Upper Houses of parliament have also made significant progress. In the Senate of the Bahamas women hold 60 percent of the seats – the highest number ever reached in a parliamentary chamber.
2007 highs and lows – The Americas and Nordic countries continue to climb
The Americas registered some impressive gains for women during 2007: an average of 28 per cent of the seats renewed in the 10 chambers went to women, boosting the regional average of women parliamentarians to over 20 per cent. This is owing to important gains in Trinidad-and-Tobago, Argentina, Bahamas and Guatemala.
The Nordic countries continued to elect the highest number of women to their parliaments. Their regional average increased to 41.4 per cent after Denmark, Finland and Iceland elected significant numbers of women to their parliaments. The Pacific Island States had the lowest return rate of women to parliament in 2007, at 1.8 per cent. No women were elected in the Federated States of Micronesia and in Nauru.
The most progress in 2007 was made by Kyrgyzstan, which went from no women in parliament to 25.6 per cent further to elections held in 2007. This was owing to the introduction of a proportional representation system, with political parties required to present 30 per cent at least of women candidates.
Women in the Executive: not a better picture
For women in the Executive, the general picture is again one of slow progress. At the global level, 16.1 per cent of all ministerial portfolios are held by women, an overall increase of two percentage points on the proportion for 2005. These findings are based on the Map on Women in Politics: 2008 produced by IPU and the United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women.
The number of countries with no women ministers has declined from 19 to 13. The under-representation of women in positions of government is featuring more frequently as a key political issue. Unlike in some parliaments, where different measures exist to secure seats for women legislators, in the executive branch of government it is often sheer political will that matters.
There are important achievements in the upper end of the tally. Two countries have surpassed the 50 per cent mark for women in ministerial positions: Finland with 58 per cent and Norway with 55.6 women ministers. Grenada comes in third place with 50 per cent. The three front runners are closely tailed by Sweden, France, South Africa, and Spain; countries in which the leadership has voiced a strong political commitment to gender equality.
Twenty-two countries have over 30 per cent of women in cabinet posts: 12 of these countries are in Europe and six in the Latin America and Caribbean region. In 2005, only 17 countries - mostly in Europe - topped the 30 percent mark. At the bottom end of the scale, 13 countries have no women at all heading ministries, and eight have a proportion of less than 5 per cent.
The regional picture for women ministers shows progress for the Americas and the Nordic States since 2005. The Americas have pushed their average up from 17 to 23 per cent, and the Nordics also boast a five percentage point increase, from 42.5 to 47.5 per cent. This trend, with the Nordic States and the Americas in the lead, mirrors the pattern in parliaments. Meanwhile, the Arab States have seen a one percentage point increase to 8 per cent, and Asia remains stagnant, also around the 8 per cent mark.
As in 2005, the pattern is still for women to be awarded the so-called “soft” portfolios. Some would dispute the term, after all, education and social affairs often carry the biggest budgets. Most ministerial portfolios held by women are related to social affairs, family, children, youth and women's affairs. Next on the list come education and the environment. On the positive note, this year there are more women heading ministries for trade, employment, foreign affairs, and justice. Defence remains securely at the bottom, with only six defence portfolios out of the 1,022 portfolios held by women worldwide.
Women Heads of State and heads of Parliament – still too few
Women remain a minority in the highest positions of the State. Of the 150 Heads of State at the start of 2008, only seven or 4.7 per cent were women. For heads of government, the proportion is lower still, at 4.2 per cent, accounting for eight women among the world's 192 heads of government. For women Speakers of Parliament, the total is at roughly 10 per cent - 28 women Speakers of Parliament, almost half of which come from Latin American and Caribbean parliaments.
Accounting for the numbers
A variety of elements affect women's participation in politics. The IPU survey highlights the impact of electoral systems. Women gained more seats in parliamentary chambers elected using a proportional electoral system, 18.3 per cent, compared to 13.8 per cent for those elected with a majority or plurality electoral system. Quotas or temporary special measures remain key. In those countries that used some type of electoral quota, the average representation of women was 19.3 per cent, as opposed to 14.7 per cent for those countries without quotas. This trend is confirmed by the top performing countries that have reached 30 per cent or more women in parliament. More than 80 per cent of those countries use quotas. Lastly, political parties are increasingly singled out as the gatekeepers to women's participation in politics.