UN Women - United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women

Facts and Figures: Leadership and Political Participation

Women in parliaments

  • Only 20.9 per cent of national parliamentarians were female as of 1 July 2013, a slow increase from 11.6 per cent in 1995 [1].
  • As of June 2013, 8 women served as Head of State and 13 served as Head of Government. [2].
  • Rwanda had the highest number of women parliamentarians worldwide. Women there have won 56.3 per cent of seats in the lower house [3].
  • Globally, there are 37 States in which women account for less than 10 per cent of parliamentarians in single or lower houses, as of July 2013 [4].
Infographic - only 1 in 5 Parliamentarians is female

Across regions

  • Wide variations remain in the average percentages of women parliamentarians in each region, across single, and lower and upper houses. As of 1 July 2013, these were: Sub-Saharan Africa, 20.9 per cent; the Middle East and North Africa, 13.8 per cent; Asia, 18.3 per cent; Pacific, 15.4 per cent; Americas, 24.8 per cent; Nordic countries, 42 per cent; and Europe excluding Nordic countries, 22.7 per cent [5].

Other domains of Government

  • As of January 2012, only 17 per cent of government ministers were women, with the majority overseeing social sectors, such as education and health [6].
  • Women’s representation in local governments has made a difference. Research on panchayats (local councils) in India discovered that the number of drinking water projects in areas with female-led councils was 62 per cent higher than in those with male-led councils. In Norway, a direct causal relationship between the presence of women in municipal councils and childcare coverage was found [7].

Expanding participation

  • 30 per cent is widely considered the “critical mass” mark for women’s representation. As of July 2013, 35 countries, including 9 in Africa, had obtained this benchmark [8]. Out of the 35 countries, 29 had applied some form of quotas opening space for women’s political participation [9].
  • In countries with proportional electoral systems, women hold 24.6 per cent of the seats. This compares with 18.5 per cent using the plurality-majority electoral system, and 21.5 per cent using a mixed system [10].
  • More women in politics does not correlate with lower levels of corruption, as is often assumed. Rather, democratic and transparent politics is correlated with low levels of corruption, and the two create an enabling environment for more women to participate [11].

[1] Inter-Parliamentary Union, July 2013, http://www.ipu.org/wmn-e/world.htm.

[2] UN Women, checked monthly against updates from the United Nations.

[3] Inter-Parliamentary Union, May 2012, World classification.

[4] Inter-Parliamentary Union, July 2013, http://www.ipu.org/wmn-e/world.htm.

[5] Inter-Parliamentary Union, May 2012, World average.

[6] Inter-Parliamentary Union, January 2012, “Women in Politics: 2012.”

[7] 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.

[8] Inter-Parliamentary Union, July 2013, http://www.ipu.org/wmn-e/world.htm.

[9] UN Women calculation baed on IDEA, Stockholm University and IPU, Global Data Base of Quotas on Women, accessed June 2013, and IPU, http://www.ipu.org/wmn-e/world.htm.

[10] Ibid.

[11] UN Development Fund for Women, 2008, Progress of the World’s Women 2008/2009: Who Answers to Women?, New York.