As budding female politicians in Saudia Arabia sign up to run in elections following historic rulings that allow women to be more involved in local government, we take a comparative look at women’s political empowerment around the world.

A recent index of gender equality by the World Economic Forum explores the disparity between opportunities available to men and women in the fields of health, education, economy and politics. The Forum’s 2014 Gender Gap Report ranked 142 countries according to their gender equality.

Scandinavian and northern European countries dominated the index’s upper echelons, perhaps as expected. But among the index’s highest-ranking countries, African economies had a significantly strong representation of women in parliament.

The statistics on women in parliament comes from the Inter-Parliamentary Union, which has just updated its database to reveal that there are now two countries in the world with more women than men in parliament — Rwanda and Bolivia.

Country Women in parliament (%)
1 Rwanda                  63.8
2 Bolivia                  53.1
3 Cuba                  48.9
4 Seychelles                  43.8
5 Sweden                  43.6
6 Senegal                  42.7
7 South Africa                  41.9
8 Ecuador                  41.6
9 Finland                  41.5
10 Iceland                  41.3

Source: Inter-Parliamentary Union

Legislation is a key driver of female representation. Heading up the African contingent is Rwanda, by far the best performer with 64 women (to 36 men) in parliament, helped by a law stipulating that 30% of all parliamentary seats be held by women. The next African state to figure is South Africa, where the African National Congress upped its quota of women in government from 30% to 50% in 2009.

In second position comes Bolivia where 2010 legislation requires equal numbers of male and female candidates in elections.

Nordic countries also feature strongly with Sweden, Finland and Iceland (top performer in the 2014 Global Gender Report) all making it into the top 10.

The World Economic Forum’s 2015 Global Gender Gap Report will be published in November.

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Author: Anna Bruce-Lockhart is an editor at the World Economic Forum

Image: Secretary for the Civil Service Denise Yue stands beside other officials during a news conference in Hong Kong June 23, 2007. REUTERS/Paul Yeung