Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

The future might be female, but these 100 countries have only had male leaders

Hillary Clinton pauses as she addresses her staff and supporters about the results of the U.S. election at a hotel in the Manhattan borough of New York.

Women still lack parity in political power Image: REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Alex Gray
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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When Hillary Clinton was waiting for the US election result, she was in a room that had a large glass ceiling. Many said that this was a symbol of what she might be about to do – shatter the glass ceiling that has thus far prevented a woman reaching the White House. We now know that America will have to wait longer to usher in its first female president.

After a few months out of the public spotlight, Clinton was back this week, making a speech in which she declared "the future is female". But if that's going to happen, we've got some work to do.

In the past half century, only 62 countries have had women leaders, according to the Global Gender Gap Report 2016 from the World Economic Forum. They include Bangladesh, which has the most amount of years served by female leaders, and Sri Lanka, which reached a milestone in 1960 when Sirimavo Bandaranaike became the modern world's first female head of government.

The UK now has its second ever female leader in Theresa May. Other European countries, particularly the Nordic and Balkan nations, are doing even better when it comes to female heads of state.

Although Rwanda, Bolivia and Cuba don’t currently have women leaders, these countries have the highest percentages of women in the lower or single houses of parliament, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union.

 Countries with a female head of state
Image: World Economic Forum
Women in government

The Political Empowerment subindex of the Global Gender Gap Report ranks countries in order of how close they are to closing the gap between male and female participation at the highest level of political decision-making, both in minister-level positions as well as parliamentary positions.

Only Iceland has closed more than 70% of its gender gap in this areas, and only Finland has closed more than 60% of its gender gap.

Indeed, the Nordic nations top the list, with Norway at number three and Sweden in number six. The top 10 are not limited to Western countries, however; Nicaragua comes in fourth, Bangladesh seventh, Rwanda eighth and India ninth, all ahead of Germany in 10th place.

According to the report, 39 countries have closed less than 10% of the gap (unchanged from last year). Oman, Lebanon and Qatar have the lowest rankings on this subindex, having closed less than 3% of their political gender gap.

No country has yet closed the Political Empowerment subindex gap.

Of those in the top 10 of the Political Empowerment list, only three currently have a female leader. Erna Solberg, prime minister of Norway since 16 October 2013; Sheikh Hasina, currently prime minister of Bangladesh; and Angela Merkel, German chancellor since 2005.

Why gender in politics matters

In recent years, female representation in politics has improved. More than three-quarters of all female presidents and prime ministers have entered office in the past 20 years.

However, the overall gap between male and female political empowerment remains wide at about 23%, although this shows a trend of slow but steady improvement in recent years.

Only 20% of all national parliamentarians are women, 18% are ministers and only 47% of countries have had a female head of state in the past 50 years.

 Women's political empowerment
Image: Global Gender Gap Index 2016, World Economic Forum

The political empowerment of women is important because it brings gender diversity to the governing table.

More women in politics make for stronger democracies, says a recent news release from UNWomen.

“Evidence shows that women's leadership in political decision-making improves these processes,” they say.

“Women have demonstrated political leadership by working across party lines and championing issues of gender equality such as the elimination of gender-based violence, parental leave and childcare, pensions, gender-equality laws and electoral reform. Failing to allow women to participate in politics means failing to achieve a fairer and more equal society.”

UNWomen has identified four ways of increasing female participation in government, including setting numerical targets for women in leadership positions; expanding and diversifying the pool of qualified and capable women able to run for election; increasing awareness of the benefit that women in politics brings; and encouraging the right support for women among governing institutions.

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