By Cynthia Richie Terrell on March 12, 2021
The Inter-Parliamentary Union reports more than one quarter of the world’s parliamentarians are women; however, at the current rate of progress, the IPU says it will take another 50 years to achieve gender parity.
Rwanda, Cuba and the United Arab Emirates were the three top-ranked countries in 2020, accounting for 50% or more female members. The IPU attributes much of this success to gender quotas. On average, it notes parliaments with quotas have elected nearly 12% more women to lower chambers and 7.4% more women to upper chambers.
IPU Secretary-General Martin Chungong said discrimination against women prevents them from becoming parliamentarians. In some cases, he said, governments have laws that prevent women from running for office.
“We have in recent years brought to light the phenomenon of violence against women, and there is ample evidence out there that women are now refraining from entering the dangerous terrain of politics on account of harassment, sexism and outright violence, which is something we need to combat,” he said.
The IPU report finds progress has been made in all regions of the world. It says the Americas once again tops all other regions with women making up 32.4% of MPs. This, the report says, was despite political upheaval across Latin America. It notes women represented nearly 27% of membership in the U.S. Congress, the highest level in its history.
In sub-Saharan Africa, the report finds Mali and Niger have made significant gains in women’s representation, despite grave security risks. It says a few countries in Europe have achieved 30% female representation, while the Middle East and North Africa have lagged with 17%.
The worst-performing countries are in the Asia-Pacific region. The IPU says Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea have no female representation. IPU officials call this a matter of great concern.
The report shows the COVID-19 pandemic had a negative impact on elections last year, noting that national parliamentary elections were postponed in nearly 20 countries due to restrictions.
The East African country is leading the world with 61% of its parliamentary seats occupied by women. Chugong even referred to Rwanda as a role model for the country’s rate of women’s participation in the government.
“We have seen evidence that where countries have come out of conflict and have had the opportunity to re-found the foundations of society, the legal framework of society, there is a greater chance of promoting gender equality,” he said. “Because this is something that has been articulated at the international level and it’s an opportunity for the society as a whole to sit down and say ‘this is what we want in the constitution.’”
While there have been several African countries to rank in the IPU’s top 10 over the last few years, this year Rwanda is the only one. Chugong clarified that this isn’t because African countries have decreased their representation of women, but rather that other countries have increased theirs.
"The fact that you'll have fewer African countries in the top 10 does not mean that they are not doing well. It's simply because other countries have moved up the rankings," he said. "So, as other countries rise to the top, others are dropping, but it does not mean that they're not doing well when it comes to gender equality.”
The country that has the second-most women in parliament on the continent is South Africa, which used to be 10th in the world but has since lost its place to Bolivia and now sits at number 12.
With 53% of women taking up parliamentary seats, Cuba remains in the second spot for another year. It is one of two countries from the Caribbean to make it into the IPU’s top 10 — with Grenada not far behind at number eight — and was commended by the union for achieving and maintaining gender parity.
3. United Arab Emirates
The third and final country on the list to have achieved gender equality in parliament — with 50% of parliamentarians being women, compared to just 20% in previous years — is the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The country made an impressive improvement, jumping from 85th in the world in 2019, to third in the world this year. This came as a result of President Sheikh Khalifa calling for women to occupy half the parliamentary seats in 2018.
Chugong referred to the UAE’s progress as an example when explaining that the countries that have fallen in ranks on this year’s list had not particularly decreased in progress, rather others have acquired more women in parliament, which is good news overall.
The report revealed that the Americas are the most commendable global region when it comes to representation of women in politics. Not only does Nicaragua have a high number of women in parliament, women leaders have been instrumental in leading the resistance against the country’s dictatorship.
5. New Zealand
With Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern re-elected as its leader, New Zealand’s parliament became one of the most diverse in the world, representing not only more women, but people of color and members of the LGBTQ+ community. Ardern herself made history when she became the youngest female leader of a country in 2017; in the presidential election last year she faced off against another woman leader and member of parliament, Judith Collins.
The year 2018 was named the “Year of the Woman” in Mexico, and after over 3,000 women ran in that year’s elections, the country achieved gender parity in its parliament. The country has sustained over 48% women parliamentarians since then.
The region ranked at third position after the Americas and Europe with an increase by 0.6 points since 2019, according to the report released ahead of International Women’s Day.
Burundi (bicameral), Tanzania (unicameral) and Cameroon (lower chamber) topped the list in the region yet again, with 30 per cent or more women parliamentarians,
Burundi has 38.2 per cent of women parliamentarians in the lower house (the National Assembly) and 41 per cent in the upper house (The Senate). This has been due to the implementation of gender quotas in the country in 2005.
Burundi was among the few countries in the world that adopted a gender quota for its legislature for promoting the inclusion and participation of women in the political process.
The country’s new constitution in 2018 provides for maintaining a minimum 30 per cent gender quota for women’s representation in the legislature and the executive branch and extends it to the judiciary.
In Liberia, Madagascar and Ghana, less than 15 per cent of parliamentarians were women. Burkina Faso also slipped in ensuring women representation in its parliament, according to the report.
The Comoros, Niger and Mali performed exceptionally well. With less than 15 per cent of women parliamentarians, these countries recorded double-digit increases in women’s representation in their parliaments.
Women’s representation in Mali had been slowly decreasing since the late 1990s. It had remained less than 10 per cent for over a decade.
But Mali saw the largest progress in terms of the number of seats held by women among all countries holding parliamentary elections in 2020.
The percentage of women MPs tripled to nearly 29 per cent from 9.5 per cent previously, thanks to the quota law adopted in 2015.
Mali’s parliament was replaced by a Transitional National Council later in 2020, where women hold 26 per cent of the seats.
At least 30 per cent of elected and appointed officials were required to be women according to the “quota law”.