The latest data from the Inter-Parliamentary Union show that Rwanda tops the list as the country with the highest proportion of women in parliament, with nearly 64 percent of seats held by women in 2013. Globally, women account for an average of about 20 percent of parliamentary seats, up from 15 percent a decade ago.
The top ten countries are a mix of high and middle income economies, some with legally mandated gender quotas and some without. Rwanda, a low income country, is followed by Andorra at a flat 50 percent and Cuba at 49 percent. Sweden, with 44 percent of parliamentary seats held by women, is the country that achieved the highest rate without any gender quota.
In 2003, Rwanda enacted a new constitution that mandated that at least 30 percent of all legislative seats be reserved for women. In ten years, there are more than twice as many women in parliament than the enforced baseline. Concurrently, more than 30 percent of Rwandan households are headed by women—higher than regional neighbors Burundi, Malawi, and Tanzania.
Despite Rwanda’s progress on this front, women’s participation is lower in higher levels of government, such as ministerial positions. Only 32 percent of ministers were women in 2012—higher than the world average, but half the proportion of female members of parliament. Further, our parliament data refers to only the lower house across all countries, so it’s a bit more difficult to measure women’s participation at different levels of government.
Women’s political participation has increased across the board in recent decades, albeit slowly. The regions with the highest proportion of women in parliament are Europe and Central Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean, which both have an average figure of about 25 percent for 2013.
The Middle East and North Africa region has the lowest political representation of women, but it has the highest rate of proportional growth out of all regions. Four of the countries measured had zero women in parliament: Micronesia, Palau, Qatar and Vanuatu. However some of these countries—such as Pacific Island states—have small populations and parliaments to match.
While there is still much progress to be made, the general trend is an increase in women’s representation across all regional and income groups. At the bottom line, Rwandan parliament member Connie Bwiza Sekemana sums it up best: “The issue is not the sex. It is the issue of equal opportunity, of citizen’s rights, human rights, the fundamentals of any citizen.”
The Gender Statistics database contains more data on women’s economic and political participation. You can also access the indicator ‘Proportion of seats held by women in national parliaments (%)’ directly from World Development Indicators. Data on the proportion of women in parliament come from the Inter-Parliamentary Union.