A one point five percentage point (1.5) increase in 2013 of the global average of women members of parliament (MPs) marks a significant and encouraging trend that could lead to gender parity within 20 years if fully capitalized upon, says the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU).
In its annual analysis of statistics and trends on women in parliament released ahead of International Women´s Day on 8th March, IPU found that women MPs accounted for 21.8 per cent of all parliamentarians by the end of 2013. Up from 20.3 per cent the previous year, the 2013 rate of increase was triple that of 2011, which saw the average percentage of women MPs rise by just 0.5 per cent.
“A one and a half per cent increase may sound negligible and nearly 22 per cent in overall figures for women MPs is dismal. But after years of minimal growth, the last two years have witnessed a major rise in the numbers of women in parliament due to concerted political action,” says IPU Secretary General Anders B. Johnsson. “With sustained political will and action, we could envisage gender parity in women´s political participation within a generation and the realization of a core tenet of democracy.”
IPU´s Women in Parliament: The year in review noted that although the Americas maintained its lead as the region with the highest average of women MPs at 25.2 per cent, it was the Arab world that witnessed the biggest regional jump of the year. The historic appointment of 30 women to Saudi Arabia´s Shura Council in January 2013 for the first time ever and the election of an unprecedented 18 women to the Jordanian parliament thanks to quotas in both countries helped the Arab region´s average rise from 13.2 per cent to 16 per cent.
Africa and Europe continued to make steady progress in 2013, recording 2.1 per cent and 1.4 per cent increases to their respective averages. Rwanda consolidated its number one status as the country with the highest percentage of women MPs - 63.8 per cent following elections in September 2013. It is the first time ever women account for more than 60 per cent of MPs in a parliament anywhere.
However, Asia and the Pacific once again bucked other regional trends. Without Australia, women would count for just 3.2 per cent of all parliamentarians in the Pacific. With elections in Australia in 2013, the overall Pacific average of women MPs increased slightly to 16.2 per cent.
Asia´s minimalist move forward from 17.9 per cent women MPs in 2012 to 18.4 per cent in 2013, similar to previous years, underscored the region´s need to take urgent and ambitious steps to redressing the gender deficit in politics.
There were also 40 women speakers by the end of the year, representing 14.8 per cent of all posts and a slight increase from the previous year.
The 2013 IPU statistics revealed yet again that although quotas helped facilitate women´s access to parliament for some, on their own they weren´t enough. The role of political parties in not fielding enough women candidates was again a factor.
The year was also witness to a growing awareness of political violence against women. Electoral violence, which includes intimidation, threats, physical assault and other aggression both pre and post-election, is a common deterrent to women´s political participation in all parts of the world.
“Countries such as Bolivia and Mexico have taken the lead by passing legislation to redress an issue that perhaps more than any other blocks women from political involvement,” adds Johnsson. “Others also need to act. Without a serious commitment to ending violence against women in the parliamentary chamber, within political parties, across the parliamentary floor and in public or in private, the road to women´s political empowerment everywhere will be a long and arduous one.”
Africa - Since 1995, the region has recorded the biggest leap in women´s representation - from 9.8 per cent to 22.5 per cent, representing an increase of 12.7 percentage points.
In addition to Rwanda´s success, Equatorial Guinea saw a dramatic 16 point increase in the percentage of women in its lower house of parliament. The adoption of a electoral law with gender requirements in Cameroon and constitutional changes in Zimbabwe and Kenya saw the number of women in their respective lower houses of parliament double or nearly double. Kenya also saw the first ever election to parliament of a Maasai woman, Peris Pesi Tobiko.
Americas - The region has seen the second highest rate of increase in women in parliament during 1995-2013 with 12.5 percentage points. It also maintains its top spot on the regional average tables with 25.2 per cent.
The lower houses of parliament in Argentina, Ecuador and Grenada saw more than 30 per cent of seats won by women, whilst Cuba´s parliament continued its solid move to parity with 48.9 per cent. Chile and Paraguay also witnessed some progress whilst Grenada in the Caribbean saw the number of women in its lower house jump from two to five though there was a decline in the upper house.
Arab countries - Despite encountering much criticism over the years for its lack of women in parliament, the region has seen an 11.7 percentage point increase in their representation between 1995-2013 - from 4.3 per cent to 16 per cent.
The region also recorded its highest ever increase in women MPs in a year - by 2.8 per cent - due to Saudia Arabia and Jordan. The number of women MPs in Kuwait stayed the same at four, whilst Qatar remained the only country in the region still committed to male-only membership of parliament.
Asia - It saw just 5.2 percentage point growth in its regional average since 1995, from 13.2 per cent to 18.4 per cent - the lowest of any area of the world.
The Philippines marked a high point in 2013, with the percentage of women MPs in lower house of parliament jumping by 5.2 percentage points to 27.3 per cent whilst women in the Senate reached a record 25 per cent. Cambodian women parliamentarians in the lower house similarly saw their representation rise to 20.3 per cent, up by 4.3 percentage points. The news was not so good in Bhutan and Pakistan where women lost ground.
Europe - The region has seen an 11.4 percentage point increase in the number of women MPs between 1995 and 2013 - from 13.2 per cent to 24.6 per cent.
Successes were evident in Austria, Israel, Italy and Malta in 2013 with Italy witnessing the largest increases - 7.1 percentage points in the lower house and 8.9 in its upper house. Women in the Israeli Knesset also set a record in 2013, accounting for 22.5 per cent of MPs. Elections in Germany saw minor progress but Nordic countries, normally global leaders, witnessed stagnation in Norway or setback in Iceland where there was a drop of nearly three percentage points to 39.7 per cent.
Pacific - Since 1995, the Pacific region has experienced an 8.5 percentage point increase in the number of women MPs - from 7.7 per cent to 16.2 per cent.
Although Australia witnessed small increases to the number of women in parliament in 2013 (less than two percentage points for each chamber), there was a landmark election of the first Aboriginal woman MP Nova Peris. In Nauru, the election of one of five women candidates standing was considered a success. However, in Micronesia, no women were again elected to parliament.
Click here to read the full Women in Parliament 2013