Although the percentage of women MPs in the world has nearly doubled in the past 20 years, ambitious and concerted political action is needed globally to overcome the slow pace of progress to equality, says the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU).
Since 1995, when the Beijing Platform for Action on women’s empowerment was adopted, the global average of women in parliament has increased from 11.3 per cent to 22.1 per cent. Women MPs have gained ground in nearly 90 per cent of the 174 countries for which data was available in 1995-2015.
In its annual analysis of statistics and trends on women in parliament released ahead of International Women’s Day on 8th March, and which this year provides an overview on progress and setbacks since the Beijing Platform, the news is encouraging at first sight.
Women in Parliament: 20 years in review points to several markers of success. The number of single or lower houses of parliament where women occupy more than 30 per cent of the seats increased from five to 42, while those with more than 40 per cent have jumped from one to 13. There are now also four chambers with more than 50 per cent women MPs and one, Rwanda, with more than 60 per cent.
The successes are also more regionally spread out. In 1995, Europe dominated the top 10 spots in IPU’s world rankings of women in parliament. In 2015, four of the top 10 countries are from Sub-Saharan Africa, while the Americas and Europe are each represented by three countries.
Only Finland, the Seychelles and Sweden appear in the top 10 for both 1995 and 2015, while Rwanda, Andorra and Bolivia have made the biggest leaps forward in women’s representation during the 20 years with respective increases of 59.5, 46.4 and 42.3 percentage points. The number of male-only parliaments has also dropped from 10 to five.
Electoral quotas in more than 120 countries have underpinned this success, according to IPU. However, a significant brake on progress in 2014 could be an indicator that the fast track impact of quotas has reached its peak and other measures investing in women’s political empowerment are needed to complement quotas.
After a record 2013, which saw the average number of women MPs rise by 1.5 percentage points, 2014 saw one of the lowest growth rates. Figures for women MPs increased by just 0.3 percentage points from 21.8 per cent to 22.1 per cent during the year. The decline in women MPs’ representation in two of the six regions of the world (Africa and Pacific) contributed to the minimal rise in global average figures.
“After the optimism and belief in 2013 that gender parity in parliament was within reach in a generation, the lack of significant progress in 2014 is a major blow,” says IPU Secretary General Martin Chungong. “It is a timely reminder that progress is not a given. Political action and will must remain a constant if we are to successfully tackle the gender deficit in politics. There is no room for complacency.”
While the number of women MPs barely shifted in 2014, there was better news on women parliamentary leaders. The percentage of women Speakers of Parliament in the world rose by one percentage point in the same period to 15.8 per cent.
With a growing number of parliaments with more than 30 per cent of women MPs, IPU’s Women in Parliament: 20 years in review also identified a rising trend in efforts to make 50 per cent the new target for women’s participation in parliament and the need to search for new opportunities and untapped potential to achieve gender parity. This included getting younger women and women from different backgrounds into politics.
“Although 2014 didn’t deliver on the expectations of 2013, the last 20 years have made it clear that women are now partners at the political table. The challenge now is in making sure women become equal partners in how democracy is delivered,” adds Chungong.
REGIONAL FACTS AND FIGURES
Americas in the lead – The region has witnessed the greatest progress in the world with the percentage of women MPs rising from 12.7 per cent in 1995 to 26.4 per cent in 2015 – an increase of 13.7 percentage points. The Americas now have the highest regional average of women MPs in the world.
In 1995, there were no countries in the region with more than 30 per cent women MPs in their single or lower house of parliament. By 2015, there were nine such countries. In addition, three countries have more than 40 per cent women MPs and one country – Bolivia – has surpassed the 50 per cent mark with 53.1 per cent of all MPs being women.
The three countries from the Americas in the top 10 of IPU’s world rankings in 2015 are: Bolivia, Cuba and Ecuador, with Bolivia, Dominica, Panama and Colombia making the greatest gains in the number of women MPs in 2014.
Over 20 years, Ecuador has made the largest gains in the region, increasing women’s representation by 37.1 percentage points to reach 41.6 per cent in 2015. There was a more modest increase in the USA, which saw the percentage of women MPs rise from 10.9 per cent in 1995 to 19.3 per cent in 2015.
Africa home to new opportunities – Sub-Sahara Africa has achieved some of the most dramatic breakthroughs in the past 20 years, often in post-conflict situations. The percentage of women MPs increased by 12.45 percentage points - from 9.8 per cent in 1995 to 22.3 per cent in 2015. Africa has the third highest regional average for women MPs in 2015.
Like the Americas, there were no countries with more than 30 per cent women MPs in single or lower houses of parliament in 1995, but by 2015, there were 12. There are now five countries with more than 40 per cent women MPs and one country – Rwanda - with 63.8 per cent.
Although Sub-Sahara Africa has four countries in the top 10 of IPU’s world rankings – Rwanda, Senegal, Seychelles and South Africa – it lost ground on its regional average for the first time in nine years. In 2015, its average dropped to 22.3 per cent from 22.5 per cent the previous year. Malawi and Mauritius both saw drops of 4.5 and 7.2 percentage points in women’s representation in parliament in 2014.
Arab region yet to deliver – The region made gains in women’s political rights during the past 20 years with women gaining suffrage in Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates in that time. But these gains were not reflected in political representation.
Nevertheless, the number of women MPs in the Arab world rose by 11.8 percentage points to 16.1 per cent between1995-2015. The region has the second lowest regional average for women MPs in 2015.
In 1995, there was no Arab State with 30 per cent of women MPs. By 2015, there were two – Algeria (31.6 per cent) and Tunisia (31.3 per cent).
Asia at a standstill – The region with the fourth highest average at 18.5 per cent of women MPs, Asia has slipped in the regional rankings since 1995 by not keeping pace with the rest of the world on this issue. It has seen an increase of just 5.3 percentage points in women’s representation since 1995 from 13.2 per cent to 18.5 per cent.
In 1995, Asia too had no parliament with more than 30 per cent women MPs. Today, it has one country, Timor Leste, in that group with 38.5 per cent. However, both Nepal and Afghanistan are close at 29.5 and 27.7 per cent respectively. Singapore, meanwhile, has seen one of the biggest jumps in women’s representation over 20 years with an increase of 21.6 percentage points. Mongolia and Bhutan have also seen notable spikes in figures.
In 2014, Japan saw the largest rise in the percentage of women MPs, from 7.9 per cent in 2012 to 9.5 per cent. There were also minor increases to both houses of parliament in India, though the overall percentage remains very low.
Europe makes sustained progress – The region has seen an 11.8 percentage point increase in 20 years, from 13.2 per cent to 25 per cent in 2015 and currently ranks second in the regional averages behind the Americas.
In 1995, there were five countries with more than 30 per cent women MPs and one country with more than 40 per cent. In the intervening years, there has been a remarkable rise with 17 countries now among those with more than 30 per cent, five countries with more than 40 per cent and Andorra achieving total gender parity in parliament at 50 per cent.
Finland and Sweden join Andorra among the top ranking European countries, with Sweden having elected more than 40 per cent women MPs to every parliament since 1994.
As the only Nordic country with less than 30 per cent women MPs in 1995, Iceland has made substantial progress since, with an increase in 15.9 percentage points.
Other notable successes have been Spain, France, Portugal and Italy, which have witnessed rises of between 15.9 and 25.1. percentage points in the number of women MPs. Legislative quotas are behind the progress.
The only country in Europe with fewer women MPs in 2015 than in 1995 is Hungary, which saw a 1.3 percentage point drop.
Although Eastern Europe has a lower average than Western Europe mainly due to the unpopularity of quotas as a relic of former regimes, Balkan States have proved to be an exception. Slovenia, Serbia, and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia all have more than 30 per cent women MPs through the adoption of quotas and the sub-region also registered the greatest progress among European States in women’s representation in parliament in 2014.
Pacific still resistant to change – The Pacific remains the region with the lowest average for women in parliament in 2015. Since 1995, it has seen an increase of 9.4 percentage points to 15.7 per cent today. The progress is largely due to gains in Australia and New Zealand
In 1995, there were no countries in the region with 30 per cent women MPs. In 2015, there is only one country, New Zealand, with 31.4 per cent in its lower house. However, Australia’s lower house has seen the largest increase in women MPs from 8.8 per cent in 1995 to 26.7 per cent in 2015.
In 1995, 10 out of 12 Pacific Island States had one or no women in parliament. By 2015, that figure had dropped to eight parliaments with another four parliaments now hosting three or more women MPs, including Papua New Guinea (PNG). In 1995, PNG had an all-male parliament.
Among the Pacific Island States, Fiji has the highest proportion of women MPs at 16 per cent.Although Micronesia and Palau both appear on the lists of countries with no women MPs in 1995 and 2015, Palau has had women during the 20-year period and still does in its upper house. Micronesia, however, has never had a woman MP. In 2015, the Tongan and Vanuatu Parliaments again become all-male institutions.
The Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) is the global organization of national parliaments. It works to safeguard peace and drives positive democratic change through political dialogue and concrete action.
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