Fact Sheet: Women's Political Participation

Women In Parliaments
As of June 2008:

  •  Women occupy only 18% of parliamentary seats around the world.
  •  Regional averages of the percentage of women in parliament vary greatly:
    •    Nordic countries - 41.4%
    •    Americas - 21.8%
    •    Europe (excluding Nordic countries) - 19.1%
    •    Asia - 17.4%
    •    Sub-Saharan Africa - 17.2%
    •    Pacific - 13.4%
    •    Arab states - 9.6%
  • The US currently rankes 68th of 134 nations worldwide with only 16.8% women elected to the House of Representatives and 16.0% women elected to the Senate. If you count all nations that tied for a position due to the same number of women represented in government seperately as well as those nations for which no information is available (such as Myanmar), the US is ranked 83rd of 189.
  • In October 2003, Rwanda became the country closest to reaching parity between men and women of any national legislature.  Currently, Rawanda has 48.8% of Lower House seats held by women and 34.6% held in the Upper House.
  • From 1945 to 1995, the number of sovereign states with parliaments increased seven-fold but the percentage of women members in parliament worldwide increased only four-fold. From 1945-1997 only 42 of the 186 States with a legislative institution have at one time or another selected a woman to preside over Parliament or a House of Parliament; 18 European, 19 of Americas, 3 Africa, 1 Asia, 1 Pacific.


Women Ministers

  • Women ministers remain concentrated in social areas (14%) rather than legal (9.4%), economic (4.1%), political (3.4%) and executive (3.9%) areas.


Women Heads of Government

  • There are only 13 women in the highest positions of State out of 189 governments:
  •  Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany
  •  Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, President of Argentina
  • Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, President of Liberia
  • Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, President of the Philippines
  • Helen Clark, Prime Minister of New Zealand
  • Luisa Diogo, Prime Minister of Mozambique
  • Mary McAleese, President of Ireland
  • Micheline Calmy-Rey, President of the Swiss Confederation
  • Michelle Bachelet, President of Chile
  • Pratibha Patil, President of India
  • Tarja Halonen, President of Finland
  • Yulia Tymoshenko, Prime Minister of Ukraine
  • Zinaida Greceanîi, Prime Minister of Moldova


Women's Suffrage

  • Women still do not with have the right to vote or have voting restrictions placed upon them in a few countries.
  • Brunei — Both women and men have been denied the right to vote or to stand for election since 1962.
  • Lebanon — Partial suffrage. Proof of elementary education is required for women but not for men. Voting is compulsory for men but optional for women.
  • Saudi Arabia — No suffrage for women. The first local elections ever held in the country occurred in 2005. Women were not given the right to vote, to stand for election or to bring appear before a judge without male representation.
  • United Arab Emirates — Limited, but will be fully expanded by 2010.


Quota Systems

  • There are currently many countries in the world that have instituted a quota system to ensure a minimum number of women elected to office. Some of these include:
  • In 1994, South Africa ranked 141st in the world in the percentage of legislative seats held by women.  After the African National Congress enacted a 30% quota for female candidates, South Africa jumped to 13th place in 2004 with women elected to 32.8% of its lower parliamentary seats.
  • The Panchayat Raj Act in India reserves 33% of the three-tiered panchayats (village council, council of cluster villages and the district council) for women.  Today there are close to one million elected women leaders at the village level.  A recent assessment revealed that corruption has gone down and transparency has greatly increased because of women's participation in the panchayats.
  • Finland's law requiring that at least 40% of each sex should be represented in the membership of various decision-making bodies led to an increase in women's membership from 25% in 1980 to 48% in 1996.
  • Argentina has a 30% quota for women on electoral lists.  As a result, the number of women in the House has remained the same from 2001 to 2003 at 34.1% in the lower house.  Women have made no significant impact in Senate commissions where they are still traditionally represented in the social and family commissions while their male counterparts are in the commissions for industry, custom revenues, mining, energy, defense and foreign relations. However, Argentinians elected Senator and former First Lady Cristina Fernández de Kirchner to the Presidency in 2007.
  • The French Constitution was reformed in 1999 to state that "the law favors the equal access of women and men to electoral mandates and elective functions."  In 2000, French law was changed so that political parties must present equal numbers of men and women (within two percent) for most elections. In 2007, socialist Ségolène Royal stood for the Presidency, but lost with 47% of the vote to conservative Nicolas Sarkozy.

Sources:  Inter-Parliamentary Union; Women's Environment and Development Organization; UN Division for the Advancement of Women; Center for Legislative Development; WomanKind; Global Database of Quotas for Women.