Facts and figures: Women’s leadership and political participation

Women’s equal participation and leadership in political and public life are essential to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. However, data show that women are underrepresented at all levels of decision-making worldwide and that achieving gender parity in political life is far off.

On this page:

Women in executive government positions

  • As of 1 January 2023, there are 31 countries where 34 women serve as Heads of State and/or Government [1]. At the current rate, gender equality in the highest positions of power will not be reached for another 130 years [2].
  • Just 17 countries have a woman Head of State, and 19 countries have a woman Head of Government [3].
  • First-time compiled data by UN Women show that women represent 22.8 percent of Cabinet members heading Ministries, leading a policy area as of 1 January 2023 [4]. There are only 13 countries in which women hold 50 percent or more of the positions of Cabinet Ministers leading policy areas [5].
  • The five most commonly held portfolios by women Cabinet Ministers are Women and gender equality, followed by Family and children affairs, Social inclusion and development, Social protection and social security, and Indigenous and minority affairs [6].

Women in national parliaments

  • Only 26.5 per cent of parliamentarians in single or lower houses are women, up from 11 per cent in 1995 [7].
  • Only six countries have 50 per cent or more women in parliament in single or lower houses: Rwanda (61 per cent), Cuba (53 per cent), Nicaragua (52 per cent), Mexico (50 per cent), New Zealand (50 per cent), and the United Arab Emirates (50 per cent) [8].
  • A further 23 countries have reached or surpassed 40 per cent, including 13 countries in Europe, six in Africa, three in Latin America and the Caribbean, and one in Asia [9].
  • Globally, there are 22 States in which women account for less than 10 per cent of parliamentarians in single or lower houses, including one lower chamber with no women at all [10].
  • At the current rate of progress, gender parity in national legislative bodies will not be achieved before 2063 [11].
  • Women hold 36 per cent of parliamentary seats in Latin America and the Caribbean and make up 32 per cent of parliamentarians in Europe and Northern America. In Sub-Saharan Africa, there are 26 per cent of women legislators followed by Eastern and South-Eastern Asia with 22 per cent, Oceania with 20 per cent, Central and Southern Asia with 19 per cent and Northern Africa and Western Asia with 18 per cent of women Members of Parliament [12].

Women in local government

  • Data from 136 countries shows that women constitute nearly 3 million (34 per cent) of elected members in local deliberative bodies. Only two countries have reached 50 per cent, and an additional 20 countries have more than 40 per cent women in local government [13].
  • Regional variations are also noted for women’s representation in local deliberative bodies, as of January 2022: Central and Southern Asia, 41 per cent; Europe and Northern America, 36 per cent; Oceania, 32 per cent; Eastern and South-Eastern Asia, 28 per cent; Latin America and the Caribbean, 25 per cent; Sub-Saharan Africa, 25 per cent; Western Asia and Northern Africa, 18 per cent [14].

Expanding participation

  • Balanced political participation and power-sharing between women and men in decision-making is the internationally agreed target set in the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action [15].
  • While most countries in the world have not achieved gender parity, gender quotas have substantially contributed to progress over the years. In countries with legislated candidate quotas, women’s representation is five percentage points and seven percentage points higher in parliaments and local government, respectively, compared to countries without such legislation [16].
  • There is established and growing evidence that women’s leadership in political decision-making processes improves them [17]. For example, 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 [18].
  • 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 [19].


[1] UN Women calculation based on information provided by Permanent Missions to the United Nations. Countries with monarchy-based systems are excluded from the count of Heads of State.

[2] UN Women calculations.

[3] UN Women calculation based on information provided by Permanent Missions to the United Nations. Two leaders hold positions of both head of state and head of government. Countries with monarchy-based systems are excluded from the count of Heads of State.

[4] Inter-Parliamentary Union and UN Women (2023). Women in politics: 2023.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Inter-Parliamentary Union. Women in national parliaments, as of 1 January 2023.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] UN Women calculations.

[12] Inter-Parliamentary Union. Women in national parliaments, as of 1 January 2023.

[13] UN Women, Women in Local Government. Data as of 1 January 2022, retrieved 27 February 2023.

[14] Ibid.

[15] United Nations (1995). Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, Critical Area G, “Women, power and decision-making”.

[16] United Nations, Economic and Social Council (2021). Women’s full and effective participation and decision-making in public life, as well as the elimination of violence, for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls: Report of the Secretary-General (E/CN.6/2021/3).

[17] UN Women (2013). In brief: Women’s leadership and political participation.

[18] 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.

[19] Inter-Parliamentary Union (2008)Equality in politics: A survey of men and women in parliaments.

[Page updated 7 March 2023.]

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