Facts and figures: Leadership and political participation

Women in parliaments

  • Only 24.3 per cent of all national parliamentarians were women as of February 2019, a slow increase from 11.3 per cent in 1995 [1].
  • As of June 2019, 11 women are serving as Head of State and 12 are serving as Head of Government [2].
  • Rwanda has the highest number of women parliamentarians worldwide, where, women have won 61.3 per cent of seats in the lower house [3].
  • Globally, there are 27 States in which women account for less than 10 per cent of parliamentarians in single or lower houses, as of February 2019, including 3 chambers with no women at all [4].

Across regions

  • Wide variations remain in the average percentages of women parliamentarians in each region. As of February 2019, these were (single, lower and upper houses combined): Nordic countries, 42.5 per cent; Americas, 30.6 per cent; Europe including Nordic countries, 28.6 per cent; Europe excluding Nordic countries, 27.2 per cent; sub-Saharan Africa, 23.9 per cent; Asia, 19.8 per cent; Arab States, 19 per cent; and the Pacific, 16.3 per cent. [5].

Other domains of government

  • As of January 2019, only 20.7 per cent of government ministers were women; the five most commonly held portfolios by women ministers are: Social Affairs; followed by Family/Children/Youth/Elderly/Disabled; Environment/Natural Resources/Energy; Employment/Labour/Vocational Training; and Trade/Industry [6].
  • In 103 countries and areas with relevant data, women's representation in elected local deliberative bodies varied from less than 1 per cent to close to parity, at 50 per cent, with a median of 26 per cent [7].
  • 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 February 2019, only 3 countries have 50 per cent or more women in parliament in single or lower houses: Rwanda with 61.3 per cent, Cuba with 53.2 per cent and Bolivia with 53.1 per cent; but a greater number of countries have reached 30 per cent or more [9]. As of February 2019, 50 single or lower houses were composed of 30 per cent or more women, including 22 countries in Europe, 12 in Sub-Saharan Africa, 12 in Latin America and the Caribbean, 2 in the Pacific and 1 each in Asia and Arab States; more than half of these countries have applied some form of quotas - either legislative candidate quotas or reserved seats - opening space for women's political participation in national parliaments [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] Inter-Parliamentary Union. “Women in national parliaments,” as of 1 February 2019.

[2] UN Women calculation based on information provided by Permanent Missions to the United Nations. Some leaders hold positions of both head of government and head of state. Only elected Heads of State have been taken into account.

[3] Inter-Parliamentary Union. “Women in national parliaments,” as at 1 February 2019.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Inter-Parliamentary Union and UN Women. “Women in Politics 2019 Map" Available at https://www.unwomen.org/en/digital-library/publications/2019/03/women-in-politics-2019-map.

[7] United Nations (forthcoming). The Sustainable Development Goals Report 2019. New York

[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 February 2019.

[10] UN Women calculation based on IDEA, Stockholm University and IPU, Global Data Base of Quotas on Women, http://www.quotaproject.org/, accessed June 2019, 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 June 2019]

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