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Country Brief: Oceania

RepresentWomen is committed to researching and identifying the best practices for increasing women’s representation in politics, drawing from evidence around the world. Part of this work leads us to track parliamentary elections and compare regional outcomes closely. We then identify the common trends impacting women’s representation, informing our U.S.-based work. This particular brief brings attention to how election rules and voting systems shape opportunities for women to enter politics within the Oceania region.

Executive Summary:

The Oceania region has some of the lowest numbers regarding women's political representation, demonstrating a need for the region’s countries to adopt systems strategies as a means to achieve gender-balanced governance. On average, women's representation in the Oceania region in lower houses of parliament is 20%, lower than the global average of 27%

The majority of countries in Oceania fare poorly in terms of women’s representation – Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea have under two percent women in their government – but the region also contains New Zealand, one of the strongest countries regarding women's representation globally. New Zealand is the only country in the region with both proportional representation (PR) and gender quotas.  

Across Oceania’s 14 countries – Australia, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, New Zealand, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu – women’s representation varies immensely. These differences show that systems strategies such as proportional representation and gender quotas are not just vital to ensuring women’s equal political representation but are most influential when implemented simultaneously. 

 In short, we find that: 

  1. Countries with proportional voting systems (PR) have the highest levels of women’s representation; PR creates opportunities, removes barriers for women to enter politics, and ensures representation for multiple minority constituencies in the same election. 
  2. Gender quotas are most effective when combined with PR voting systems. Countries that have quotas but use winner-take-all systems have significantly lower levels of women’s representation. New Zealand, which has reached political parity across all levels of government, shows this. 
  3. Strategies that advance women’s representation in the legislature have a ripple effect on other branches of government. Countries that use proportional voting systems, have gender quotas, or combine the two see the highest levels of women’s cabinet representation. This is shown in Australia, Fiji, New Zealand, and Samoa.

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