UNITED NATIONS - The number of women participating in politics globally is rising, but slowly, says a new report from the Inter-Parliamentary Union.
The report found that in 2017, the number of female parliamentarians grew by 1 percentage point over the previous year to nearly 24 percent, while the proportion of female ministers is at an all-time high at almost 21 percent.
"The fact that 75 percent of legislators are men, really?" Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, executive director of U.N. Women, said at a joint press conference with the head of the IPU to launch the report Tuesday. "That's a lot of men making laws for all of us."
There is also a shift afoot in the kinds of portfolios female ministers hold, noted IPU President Gabriela Cuevas Barron.
"Women continue to hold portfolios considered 'soft' on social affairs or family, children or youth, however, the trade industry portfolio is among the top five ministries held by women globally for the first time," Cuevas said. "Strikingly, more women are in charge of portfolios traditionally occupied by men compared to 2017."
She said that globally in 2018, 30 percent more women ministers covered defense, 52.9 percent more covered finance, and 13.6 percent more covered foreign affairs compared to the previous year.
On the flip side, IPU said women's participation in top-level leadership is down from 7.2 percent of elected heads of state to 6.6 percent, and from 5.7 percent of heads of government to 5.2 percent. There are also 11 countries that have no female ministers.
A key factor in improving female participation in politics and reaching gender parity is quota systems.
"The analysis shows that countries with well-designed gender quotas elected significantly more women to parliament than those without," said IPU's Cuevas. "It's absolutely clear that legal quotas, that affirmative action — when it is well-designed — it really changes our reality."
She said that if women can bring institutional changes, then cultural changes will follow.
However, quota systems only work when they are implemented.
"We have almost perfect legislation when it comes to gender equality, it's the implementation that is lacking," Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic told reporters. "We have the quota system in parliament, however, none of the parties respect it."
She said the last Croatian elections showed the number of elected women was the fewest since Croatia's independence in 1991. "The parties rather pay fines than respect the quotas," she said.
Croatia ranked 98th out of 191 on the IPU list of women parliamentarians.
'Radical measures needed'
Iceland, which ranks 21st, has not seen even progress. In 2016, there was nearly gender parity; however, in 2017 elections, the number of women dropped to 38 percent.
"My party has a quota system, the majority of Icelandic political parties have a quota system, but not all of them, and you can actually see from the results of the election how it goes for women," Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir said. "I think radical measures is what is needed, unless we are going to stay here talking about gender inequality for the next century."
U.N. Women's Mlambo-Ngcuka agreed.
"We need to make a strong case about democracy being for the people, by the people, not for the people by the men," she said. "And, therefore, create very concrete thresholds that political parties must cross in order for them to have legitimacy in parliament. If in their own party they are unable to represent most of the people who live in the constituencies that they are trying to lead, we have to question if they really are a true representative of the people."