Facts and figures: Leadership and political participation

Women in parliaments

  • Only 22.8 per cent of all national parliamentarians were women as of June 2016, a slow increase from 11.3 per cent in 1995 [1].
  • As of January 2017, 10 women are serving as Head of State and 9 are serving 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 38 States in which women account for less than 10 per cent of parliamentarians in single or lower houses, as of June 2016, 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 June 2016, these were (single, lower and upper houses): Nordic countries, 41.1 per cent; Americas, 27.7 per cent; Europe excluding Nordic countries, 24.3 per cent; sub-Saharan Africa, 23.1 per cent; Asia, 19.2 per cent; Arab States, 18.4 per cent; and the Pacific, 13.5 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].
  • The global proportion of women elected to local government is currently unknown, constituting a major knowledge gap [7]. UN Women is currently developing first-ever data baseline on women elected to local government within the monitoring framework of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly SDG target 5.5.
  • 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 June 2016,  only 2 countries have 50 per cent or more women in parliament in single or lower houses: Rwanda with 63.8 per cent and Bolivia with 53.1 per cent; but a greater number of countries have reached 30 per cent or more. As of June 2016, 46 single or lower houses were composed of more than 30 per cent women, including 14 in Sub-Saharan Africa and 11 in Latin America [9]. Out of those 46 countries, 40 had applied some form of quotas - either legislative candidate quotas or reserved seats - opening space for women's political participation [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 June 2016”.

[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 June 2016”

[4] Ibid. (parliament data currently unavailable for Haiti, where 2015 outstanding senatorial and legislative elections were postponed and are expected to be completed in October 2016.)

[5] Inter-Parliamentary Union. “Women in national parliaments, as at 1 June 2016”

[6] Inter-Parliamentary Union and UN Women. “Women in Politics: 2015"

[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 June 2016”

[10] UN Women calculation based on IDEA, Stockholm University and IPU, Global Data Base of Quotas on Women, http://www.quotaproject.org/, accessed July 2016, 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 August 2016]


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