Women in Politics Map 2014 – Statement by John Hendra

Statement by UN Women Deputy Executive Director Policy and Programme John Hendra, New York, 11 March 2014


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Good morning! I’m very pleased to be here this morning with IPU Secretary-General Anders Johnsson, to present our map "Women in Politics” in 2014. This is the sixth such map that the IPU and UN Women have produced – the first being in 2000. And I’d like to express my deep appreciation to the IPU for their great partnership and support.

We’re proud to be launching this map today. Because numbers matter - they tell us how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go. And this map tells a very powerful story. There is now an average of 21.8 per cent women Members of Parliament worldwide. This is the highest figure ever achieved, and an increase of 8.7 percentage points since 2000. However it also shows that while progress is being made, significant challenges remain. As the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Report has shown, progress on political participation remains very slow – much slower than in other areas such as health and education. At this pace, it will take decades to reach gender parity in parliaments.

Achieving gender equality in political participation requires that we address the full range of barriers women face in competing in elections. As we know, these barriers include gender bias and discrimination, cultural attitudes that see women as less able and worthy to lead, the challenge of raising sufficient campaign funds, tackling corruption and vote buying, and inadequate support from political parties and the media. I’d like to briefly highlight four key strategies to increase the number of women in parliaments – and change the numbers for future maps.

First, one of the most effective strategies for increasing the number of women in parliament is through the use of temporary special measures, including quotas. We need to use temporary special measures such as quotas until such time as there is a level playing field between men and women in political life.

As of 1 January 2014, there are 46 countries that have met the 30 per cent threshold for women in at least one chamber - and 38 countries where women’s participation remains below 10 per cent. Some form of temporary special measure or quota is used in 32 of the countries with 30 per cent or more representation of women - and in only 6 of the lowest-ranked 38 countries, with less than 10 per cent. In short, quotas work and they are a very effective way of ensuring more women enter parliaments.

Why does this matter? Second, when it comes to implementing temporary special measures, as we know, political parties are key actors. In many countries the “gatekeeper” role political parties play, keeps women on the outside. What’s more, political parties are the main drivers of the development of policy and platforms, and they set the tone of the political debate on issues of participation and representation.

Political parties are the institutions where political leadership is nurtured. For women to succeed in these institutions, they have to learn the rules of the game, and adapt. Actually, changing the rules would require more women at the top, which has to date been rare. We still have just 14 women Heads of Government and 9 women Heads of State, globally. At UN Women, we are very pleased and proud to see our former and first Executive Director, President-elect Michelle Bachelet, join them for the second time - she is being inaugurated today, right about now in fact!

Looking forward, more transparent and inclusive party practices and processes are needed. The use of temporary special measures to ensure women’s access to leadership positions within the party would be a good start. In addition, much more needs to be done to sensitize people and raise public awareness on the role of women in political life, including with key constituencies such as the media, men and boys, and young people.

Third, progress towards greater inclusion of women in political life requires a strong women’s movement. Civil society must be supported to continue to hold governments to account, and exert pressure on those in power to ensure gender equality is considered in all aspects of governance. Women’s groups are also essential in supporting women when they run, and once they are elected.

Finally, we need to continue to make the case for women in decision-making. We’re often asked “what do women bring to politics?” and “why are these numbers so important?”. Well firstly, they’re important because women have the right, enshrined in almost every national constitution worldwide, to be treated equally, to vote and to stand for election.

Secondly, as we know from years of research, women’s inclusion in political processes improves them. When women are in decision-making positions, more inclusive decisions are made and more progressive legislation and policies are introduced. When women are included in the policy and legislative process, different voices are heard and different solutions are created.

The map clearly shows us the value of having good data and of being able to measure and track women’s political participation over time. It’s a great tool for benchmarking progress and for accountability. Yet unfortunately we still lack enough robust data on many important indicators of women’s participation in public and political life – such as women’s presence at the local and sub-national levels of government, women voter turnout rates, and the number of women in the judiciary, and the police. Ensuring we have this data is a very important part of the data revolution that is currently underway to support the new post-2015 agenda.

At UN Women we are very proud to support the many positive developments worldwide in women’s participation and representation in senior decision-making positions. Because every election is a critical opportunity to make progress towards the increased participation of women as voters and as candidates. In the future, we hope to see many more maps such as this one, with steadily improving numbers, showing the increased participation of women in decision-making at all levels.

Thank you.

Read related press release on Progress for women in politics

Watch the archived webcast of the IPU-UN Women press conference to launch the Women in Politics Map: 2014, 11 March, 11 a.m.,  UN Secretariat, New York