A rare annual increase of nearly one percentage point in the global average number of women members of parliament (MPs) in 2012 has underlined once again that quotas remain pivotal to efforts redressing the gender deficit in politics.
Releasing its annual analysis on the statistics on women MPs ahead of International Women’s Day (8th March), the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) found 2012 represented a year of higher than usual level of progress on women’s political participation. The global average of women in parliaments by the end of 2012 stood at 20.3 per cent, up from 19.5 per cent in 2011. With the exception of 2007, the average annual rate of increase in recent years has been 0.5 percentage point.
The use of either legislated or voluntary quotas, (usually in combination with a proportional representation system (PR)) in some of the 48 countries where elections were held in 2012, were largely responsible for the above-average increase of women MPs.
Nine out of the top 10 countries which witnessed the highest growth in the number of women MPs in their lower house of parliament had used quotas. Conversely, seven out of the nine lower houses of parliament that witnessed an actual decrease in women MPs had not used any quotas.
All in all, electoral quotas were used in 22 of the 48 countries holding elections last year. Where quotas had been legislated, women took 24 per cent of parliamentary seats; with voluntary quotas, they gained 22 per cent. Where no quotas were used, women took just 12 per cent of seats, well below the global average.
“Although quotas remain contentious in some parts of the world, they remain key to progress on a fundamental component of democracy - gender parity in political representation,” says IPU Secretary General Anders B. Johnsson. “There can be no claim to democracy without delivering on this.”
However, quotas by themselves are insufficient. They need to be ambitious, accompanied by sanctions for non-compliance and women candidates should be placed in winnable positions on party lists. Political commitment to including women’s parliamentary participation is also a must.
Elections around the world in 2012 reiterated these lessons whilst underscoring the importance of the kind of electoral systems used in women’s election to parliament. Proportional representation not only remained the best system for enforcing quotas, but also delivered a much higher percentage of women MPs (25%) in 2012 than first-past-the-post (14%) or a mixture of the two systems (17.5%).
An encouraging emerging trend in 2012 was the decision by five parliaments to tackle the sluggish pace of change by carrying out gender audits with IPU support to determine how they could become more gender-sensitive. The concept covers not just women’s access to parliament but also their equal representation across all parliamentary structures including committees, engaging political parties to raise the political will to change the status quo and address the working culture within parliament, so often a deterrent for women MPs and parliamentary staff.
Highest electoral gains for women MPs were witnessed in Senegal, Algeria and Timor Leste, with all three countries using legislated quotas for the first time.
With 31.6 per cent women MPs, Algeria is now the first and only Arab country to have more than 30 per cent women holding parliamentary seats. It was the highlight in a region which failed to deliver on the promise of democratic change in the Arab Spring countries of Egypt and Libya and which continues to have the lowest regional average –13.2 per cent.
Senegal, where women MPs reached 42.7 per cent, brought Africa’s regional average up to 20.4 per cent. Sub-Saharan Africa now has four parliaments in the top ten of IPU’s world rankings of women in parliament.
The Americas, which have the highest regional average in the world at 24.1 per cent, witnessed record number of women being elected in El Salvador, Jamaica, Mexico and the United States of America (USA). The USA, where women now account for 18 per cent in the House of Representatives and 20 per cent in the Senate, saw an unprecedented number of women candidates. Nevertheless, the USA jumped only one place in IPU’s world rankings from 78th to 77th in 2012.
Europe’s regional average of 23.2 per cent illustrated steady progress in the region over the last decade. Significant advances were made in Serbia (up 10.8 percentage points), Kazakhstan (up 8.4 percentage points) and France (up 8.3 percentage points) with results in Serbia and France due to quota legislation. What setbacks there were in Europe e.g. Belarus (down 5 percentage points), the Netherlands (down 2 percentage points) and the Czech Republic (down one percentage point) were relatively minor.
Progress in Asia is slow and incremental with the regional average increasing by only 3 percentage points from 15.2 percent in 2002 to 17.9 percent in 2012. Nevertheless, there were some memorable successes such as Timor Leste (up 10.8 percentage points) and an increase of 9.6 percentage points in Mongolia in women’s parliamentary representation. The historic election of Aung San Suu Kyi and the other 12 women candidates from the National League for Democracy party to the Myanmar parliament was a high point in the Asian region, although women MPs only represent six percent of the lower house.
The Pacific region is the only one where the situation has remained static over the last decade, with a regional average of 15.3 per cent compared to 15.2 per cent 10 years ago. However, without taking into account Australia and New Zealand, the average for the Pacific would be just three per cent.
The PDF file of the analysis in English can be found here.