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 No.361, New York/Geneva, 2 March 2012IPU Logo-bottom


Despite a dramatic year marked by significant political change and democratic transformation in parts of the world, 2011 was again marked by too little progress on women’s political participation and a continued global lack of political will to change the status quo, says IPU.

In its annual study on women members of parliament (MPs) launched today, IPU found the global average of female parliamentary representation stood at 19.5% in 2011, up from 19% in 2010. This 0.5 percentage point increase has followed similar patterns over the past decade and underscores the minimal progress in attempts to reach gender parity in parliamentary representation across the globe this century.

“Less than one-in-five parliamentarians in the world today are women. It is a worrying statistic at this point of human development and impossible to justify. The political will to change this is simply lacking in most cases,” says Anders B. Johnsson, IPU Secretary General.

The study does take note of several successes such as the dramatic improvement in women’s political representation in many countries through elections last year, including Nicaragua, Seychelles, Slovenia, Andorra, Saint Lucia and Uganda. The number of lower houses hosting more than 30% women rose from 25 to 30 with a similar trend being witnessed among upper houses. The number of chambers without any women at all also dropped to seven.

In addition, new research carried out by IPU and UN Women and presented in the Women in Politics 2012 map, revealed progress at the executive level with the number of countries with women as head of government, head of state or both having more than doubled since 2005 to 17 in total at the moment. The percentage of women ministers had also modestly increased from 14.2% in 2005 to 16.7% in 2012.

But there were also significant setbacks in countries such as Egypt, Peru, the United Arab Emirates, Estonia, Zambia and Cyprus, which saw the largest decreases in female representation. Recent elections in Egypt saw the percentage of women parliamentarians drop from 12.7% to just below 2%. Only 10 women now hold parliamentary seats out of 508 members.

Although there were some encouraging developments in the Arab world such as Tunisia adopting a law securing parity on candidate lists and the introduction of quotas for women parliamentarians in Morocco which resulted in a 6 percentage point increase in women MPs last year, the regional average of 10.7% is well below the global figure for female parliamentary representation.

“The Arab Spring has yet to deliver for women in politics. The opportunities to ensure more women are voted into parliament are there. They just have to be taken. More than a third of countries with 30% or more women MPs are those that have emerged from conflict and are in transition. The precedents are there,” says Abdelwahad Radi, President of IPU. “Women were at the forefront of the uprisings in the Middle East. They need to be at the forefront of parliamentary democracy too.”

"For UN Women expanding women's political participation is a top priority," said Michelle Bachelet, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women. "Today I call for greater political will to address the under-representation of women in politics, which remains one of the largest gender gaps in the world. In 2012, UN Women will support UN Member States to increase women's representation in public office as called for by the UN General Assembly in a resolution adopted in December."

Data tends to confirm that women would have the same success rate at elections but face many more obstacles along the way than men.

IPU argues that the solutions are out there but that they need to be implemented with urgency and real determination.

Political parties have a key role to play by getting more women to stand. By giving gender parity to candidate lists and by allocating more winnable seats to women, they would create a more level playing field. Clear and transparent rules on candidate selection also need to be established in addition to ensuring the proper funding of women’s campaigns.

The effective sanctioning of political parties that fail to facilitate gender parity or meet quotas would, the Organization argues, show political commitment to effecting real change.

Until this commitment is in place, quotas remain the most effective route for increasing women’s participation. Out of the 59 countries holding elections in 2011, 17 of them had legislated quotas. Women took 27.4% of parliamentary seats in these countries as opposed to 15.7% in countries without any form of quotas.

“Yet again, we see too few women politicians. Until there is parity, it would seem that the right to political participation is an assumption held for only one group and that women are denied their opportunity to effect social and economic change through political means,” states Johnsson.


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Established in 1889 and with its Headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, the IPU, the oldest multilateral political organisation, currently brings together 159 affiliated parliaments and nine 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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