Under the Millennium Development Goals framework, the proportion of seats in national parliaments is one of the three indicators measuring progress of achieving Goal 3 to promote gender equality and empower women.
According to Inter-Parliamentary Union, the women’s representation in parliament positions worldwide stands at 18.5%. This percentage is well beyond the target of 30% established in the 1990s. Only 24 countries have reached the 30% target. However, in 22 countries out of 25 that reached the 30% threshold, the electoral gender quotas were implemented. Quotas, though a supportive tool in many countries, are not always seen well by women.
The 30% target, the so-called critical mass, must be reached in order to promote gender equality and to insure women’s influence on decision-making and political process.
United States ranks 71 with women holding 16.8% of seats in the House and 15.3% in the Senate.
Regionally, in the European Union, the equal opportunities policy is in place since 1999 when the Amsterdam Treaty was ratified by Member States. Nevertheless, women are under-represented in political decision-making positions. In OSCE countries, including Nordic states, women are holding 19.2% of seats in parliament. The national differences are considerable. In Sweden, women hold 47% of seats, in Turkey, only 9.1%.
According to European Commission 2008 report and UN, women ministers in the 27 states of European Union hold 36.7% of socio-cultural and only 17.7% of economic portfolios. However, in Slovenia, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, Liechtenstein and Lithuania, women hold 30% or more of economy portfolios; and in Greece, Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary, none. Around the world, this trend is changing with more and more women increasingly holding strategic and economic portfolios.
In Arab countries, women’s representation in parliament positions stands at 9.1%, among the lowest in the world, though there have been increases in participation in other decision-making positions. Women in United Arab Emirates are holding 22.5% of seats in Parliament, the highest representation in the region, while Egypt has the lowest representation with women holding only 1.8% of seats.
Election-related violence is common in Arab countries discouraging women to participate in political life. Fundamentalism, combined with patriarchal tribal traditions, is trampling any attempts of women to join political process.
Sub-Saharan Africa had considerable increases in women’s participation in politics in the last ten years with currently women holding 18.6% of seats in parliament. Rwanda is a global leader with 56.3% from September 2008 election. South Africa, Angola, Mozambique, Uganda, Burundi, and Tanzania also achieved 30% target, with South Africa at 44.5%.
From all the world regions, the representation is the highest in Nordic countries and in the Americas with women holding 43.2% and 22.0% of parliament seats, respectively. In Asia, women are holding 18.4% of seats and in the Pacific, 15.2%.
Though women in India hold only 10.1 % of seats in Parliament, there are 1.2 million elected women representatives in rural regions. According to Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Department of Economics, a study of local government women leaders in India revealed that they were more inclined to allocate funds to construction and repairs of roads and transportation, sanitation, health clinics, and public projects preferred by women, and to complete them at a lower price.
In nine countries, there are no women parliamentarians, among them Belize, Oman, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
The world average stands at 18.5% and there is still a long way to go before a 30% critical mass will be reached. Half of the world’s population and half of the labor force are women. How to take into account and meet concerns of both halves of the world remains a challenge.
Source: Inter-Parliamentary Union, UN, European Commission Report 2008,
Massachusetts Institute of Technology