Facts and figures: Leadership and political participation

Women in parliaments

  • Only 24 per cent of all national parliamentarians were women as of November 2018, a slow increase from 11.3 per cent in 1995 [1].
  • As of January 2019, 11women are serving as Head of State and 10 are serving as Head of Government [2].
  • Rwanda has the highest number of women parliamentarians worldwide. Women there have won 61.3 per cent of seats in the lower house [3].
  • Globally, there are 29 States in which women account for less than 10 per cent of parliamentarians in single or lower houses, as of November 2018, including 4 chambers with no women at all [4].

Across regions

  • Wide variations remain in the average percentages of women parliamentarians in each region. As of November 2018, these were (single, lower and upper houses combined): Nordic countries, 42.3 per cent; Americas, 30 per cent; Europe including Nordic countries, 27.7 per cent; Europe excluding Nordic countries, 26.6 per cent; sub-Saharan Africa, 23.6 per cent; Asia, 19.4 per cent; Arab States, 17.8 per cent; and the Pacific, 17 per cent. [5].

Other domains of government

  • As of January 2017, only 18.3 per cent of government ministers were women; the most commonly held portfolio by women ministers is environment, natural resources, and energy, followed by social sectors, such as social affairs, education and the family [6].
  • The global proportion of women elected to local government is currently unknown, constituting a major knowledge gap [7].
  • Women’s representation in local governments can make a difference. Research on panchayats (local councils) in India discovered that the number of drinking water projects in areas with women-led councils was 62 per cent higher than in those with men-led councils. In Norway, a direct causal relationship between the presence of women in municipal councils and childcare coverage was found [8].

Expanding participation

  • As of November 2018, only 3 countries have 50 per cent or more women in parliament in single or lower houses: Rwanda with 61.3 per cent, Cuba with 53.2 per cent and Bolivia with 53.1 per cent; but a greater number of countries have reached 30 per cent or more. As of November 2018, 49 single or lower houses were composed of 30 per cent or more women, including 21 countries in Europe, 13 in Sub-Saharan Africa, 11 in Latin America and the Caribbean, 2 in the Pacific and 1 each in Asia and Arab States; more than half of these countries have applied some form of quotas - either legislative candidate quotas or reserved seats - opening space for women's political participation in national parliaments [10]. Gender balance in political participation and decision-making is the internationally agreed target set in the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action [11].
  • There is established and growing evidence that women's leadership in political decision-making processes improves them [12]. Women demonstrate political leadership by working across party lines through parliamentary women's caucuses - even in the most politically combative environments - and by championing issues of gender equality, such as the elimination of gender-based violence, parental leave and childcare, pensions, gender-equality laws and electoral reform [13].


[1] Single House or Lower House. Inter-Parliamentary Union. “Women in national parliaments, as of 1 November 2018.

[2] UN Women calculation based on information provided by Permanent Missions to the United Nations. Some leaders hold positions of both head of government and head of state.

[3] Inter-Parliamentary Union. “Women in national parliaments, as at 1 November 2018

[4] Ibid.

[5] Inter-Parliamentary Union. “Women in national parliaments, as at 1 November 2018

[6] Inter-Parliamentary Union and UN Women. “Women in Politics 2017 Map" Available at http://www.unwomen.org/en/digital-library/publications/2017/4/women-in-politics-2017-map

[7] UN Secretary-General’s Report on Women and Political Participation (2013). “Measures taken and progress achieved in the promotion of women and political participation”, A/68/184.

[8] R. Chattopadhyay and E. Duflo (2004_. “Women as Policy Makers: Evidence from a Randomized Policy Experiment in India,” Econometrica 72(5), pp. 1409–1443; K. A. Bratton and L. P. Ray, 2002, “Descriptive Representation: Policy Outcomes and Municipal Day-Care Coverage in Norway,” American Journal of Political Science, 46(2), pp. 428–437.

[9] Inter-Parliamentary Union. “Women in national parliaments, as at 1 November 2018

[10] UN Women calculation based on IDEA, Stockholm University and IPU, Global Data Base of Quotas on Womenhttp://www.quotaproject.org/, accessed November 2018, and IPU, http://www.ipu.org/wmn-e/world.htm.

[11] Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, Critical Area G ‘Women, Power and Decision-Making’,

[12] UN Women. ‘In Brief: Women’s Leadership and Political Participation.’

[13] Inter-Parliamentary Union (2008)Equality in Politics: A Survey of Men and Women in Parliaments.

[Page updated January 2019]

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