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IPU Report: Women Still Underrepresented in Parliaments Worldwide

Women shout during a march ahead of International Women's Day in Quito, Ecuador, March 7, 2021.
Women shout during a march ahead of International Women's Day in Quito, Ecuador, March 7, 2021.

A report coinciding with International Women’s Day on Monday finds the number of women parliamentarians globally is increasing, but so slightly that it barely dents the global male-dominated system.

The Inter-Parliamentary Union reports more than one quarter of the world’s parliamentarians are women; however, at the current rate of progress, the IPU says it will take another 50 years to achieve gender parity.

Rwanda, Cuba and the United Arab Emirates were the three top-ranked countries in 2020, accounting for 50% or more female members. The IPU attributes much of this success to gender quotas. On average, it notes parliaments with quotas have elected nearly 12% more women to lower chambers and 7.4% more women to upper chambers.

IPU Secretary-General Martin Chungong said discrimination against women prevents them from becoming parliamentarians. In some cases, he said, governments have laws that prevent women from running for office.

“We have in recent years brought to light the phenomenon of violence against women, and there is ample evidence out there that women are now refraining from entering the dangerous terrain of politics on account of harassment, sexism and outright violence, which is something we need to combat,” he said.

The IPU report finds progress has been made in all regions of the world. It says the Americas once again tops all other regions with women making up 32.4% of MPs. This, the report says, was despite political upheaval across Latin America. It notes women represented nearly 27% of membership in the U.S. Congress, the highest level in its history.

In sub-Saharan Africa, the report finds Mali and Niger have made significant gains in women’s representation, despite grave security risks. It says a few countries in Europe have achieved 30% female representation, while the Middle East and North Africa have lagged with 17%.

The worst-performing countries are in the Asia-Pacific region. The IPU says Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea have no female representation. IPU officials call this a matter of great concern.

The report shows the COVID-19 pandemic had a negative impact on elections last year, noting that national parliamentary elections were postponed in nearly 20 countries due to restrictions.