By Khanyi Mlaba
Women make up half of the world’s population and yet they are still largely excluded from politics and decision-making power.
The Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), a global organization of national parliaments, released its latest annual Women in Parliament report just a few days before International Women’s Day on March 8, and it indicated that the world is not yet on track to achieve gender equality in politics by 2030.
The good news is that women are steadily taking up more space in governmental leadership around the world, with more and more of them securing seats in national parliaments, and a good number of countries implementing parliamentary quotas to ensure fair representation of women.
Although this representation has reached a significant milestone — the global average of women in parliamentary positions now sits at 25.5%, reaching over a quarter for the first time in history — the IPU’s Secretary-General Martin Chugong said on the release of the report that the increase of women’s representation is not yet happening fast enough.
“While we celebrate and welcome this all-time high, we feel that progress is painstakingly, or even excruciatingly, slow,” said Chugong. “At the current rate, it will take another 50 years before we can achieve gender parity in parliament. And of course, we all agree that this is not tenable, it’s not acceptable.”
While we may still be a few decades away from seeing equal representation of women parliamentarians around the world, it is still important to celebrate the countries that are prioritizing gender equality in their governments.
These are the 10 countries that are, according to the IPU report, setting an example for the rest of the world:
The East African country is leading the world with 61% of its parliamentary seats occupied by women. Chugong even referred to Rwanda as a role model for the country’s rate of women’s participation in the government.
“We have seen evidence that where countries have come out of conflict and have had the opportunity to re-found the foundations of society, the legal framework of society, there is a greater chance of promoting gender equality,” he said. “Because this is something that has been articulated at the international level and it’s an opportunity for the society as a whole to sit down and say ‘this is what we want in the constitution.’”
While there have been several African countries to rank in the IPU’s top 10 over the last few years, this year Rwanda is the only one. Chugong clarified that this isn’t because African countries have decreased their representation of women, but rather that other countries have increased theirs.
“The fact that you’ll have fewer African countries in the top 10 does not mean that they are not doing well. It’s simply because other countries have moved up the rankings,” he said. “So, as other countries rise to the top, others are dropping, but it does not mean that they’re not doing well when it comes to gender equality.”
The country that has the second-most women in parliament on the continent is South Africa, which used to be 10th in the world but has since lost its place to Bolivia and now sits at number 12.
With 53% of women taking up parliamentary seats, Cuba remains in the second spot for another year. It is one of two countries from the Caribbean to make it into the IPU’s top 10 — with Grenada not far behind at number eight — and was commended by the union for achieving and maintaining gender parity.
3. United Arab Emirates
The third and final country on the list to have achieved gender equality in parliament — with 50% of parliamentarians being women, compared to just 20% in previous years — is the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The country made an impressive improvement, jumping from 85th in the world in 2019, to third in the world this year. This came as a result of President Sheikh Khalifa calling for women to occupy half the parliamentary seats in 2018.
Chugong referred to the UAE’s progress as an example when explaining that the countries that have fallen in ranks on this year’s list had not particularly decreased in progress, rather others have acquired more women in parliament, which is good news overall.
The report revealed that the Americas are the most commendable global region when it comes to representation of women in politics. Not only does Nicaragua have a high number of women in parliament, women leaders have been instrumental in leading the resistance against the country’s dictatorship.
5. New Zealand
With Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern re-elected as its leader, New Zealand’s parliament became one of the most diverse in the world, representing not only more women, but people of color and members of the LGBTQ+ community. Ardern herself made history when she became the youngest female leader of a country in 2017; in the presidential election last year she faced off against another woman leader and member of parliament, Judith Collins.
The year 2018 was named the “Year of the Woman” in Mexico, and after over 3,000 women ran in that year’s elections, the country achieved gender parity in its parliament. The country has sustained over 48% women parliamentarians since then.
The country describes itself as the first feminist government in the world, and gender equality is core to to the country’s values and overall decision-making. Sweden’s parliament currently hosts 46% of women in parliament.
Women are increasingly becoming a leading voice in Grenada, and since 2006 the Caribbean country has taken legislative action to ensure gender equality across the nation — with a core focus on eradicating poverty among the country’s women. Grenada swore in its first female head of state in 2013, Governor-General Cécile La Grenade, who has helped to elevate women’s empowerment on the country’s national agenda.
Andorra has a high number of both women and young people in parliament, and while the country has some way to go in progressing on women’s rights, seats held by women in parliament have increased from 32% in 2019, to 46% this year.
Women surpassed men for seats in parliament seven years ago in Bolivia, and the country has been one of the leading examples for women’s representation in politics ever since. The country reached gender parity in parliament thanks to a quota law that was implemented in 2010 that raised the existing quota from 30% to 50%.
You can read the IPU’s full report here to see how all 195 countries in the world ranked.