Facts and Figures: Leadership and Political Participation

Women in parliaments

  • Only 22 per cent of all national parliamentarians were female as of August 2015, a slow increase from 11.3 per cent in 1995 [1].
  • As of August 2015, 11 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 63.8 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 August 2015, including 6 chambers with no women at all [4].

Across regions

  • Wide variations remain in the average percentages of women parliamentarians in each region, across all chambers (single, lower and upper houses). As of August 2015, these were: Nordic countries, 41.1 per cent; Americas, 25.5 per cent; Europe excluding Nordic countries, 24.4 per cent; sub-Saharan Africa, 23.0 per cent; Asia, 18.4 per cent; Middle East and North Africa, 17.1 per cent; and the Pacific, 15.7 per cent. [5].

Other domains of government

  • As of January 2015, only 17 per cent of government ministers were women, with the majority overseeing social sectors, such as education and the family [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 an important benchmark for women’s representation. As of January 2015, 41 single or lower houses were composed of more than 30 per cent women, including 11 in Africa and 9 in Latin America [8]. Out of the 41 countries, 34 had applied some form of quotas opening space for women’s political participation. Specifically, 17 use legislative candidate quotas; 6 use reserve seats; and in a further 11, parties have adopted voluntary quotas [9].
  • In countries with proportional electoral systems, women hold 25.2 per cent of the seats. This compares with 19.6 per cent using the plurality-majority electoral system, and 22.7 per cent using a mixed system [10].
  • More women in politics does not necessarily 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, “Women in national parliaments, as at 1 August 2015”

[2] UN Women calculation based on information provided to Permanent Missions to the United Nations.

[3] Inter-Parliamentary Union, “Women in national parliaments, as at 1 August 2015”

[4] Inter-Parliamentary Union and UN Women, “Women in Politics: 2015"

[5] Ibid.

[6] Inter-Parliamentary Union, March 2015, "Sluggish progress on women in politics will hamper development"

[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 and UN Women, “Women in Politics: 2015"

[9] UN Women calculation based on IDEA, Stockholm University and IPU, Global Data Base of Quotas on Women, accessed February 2015, 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.

[Page updated September 2015.]