Gender Inequality

Which countries have the most gender-equal parliaments?

Iranian women parliamentarians at a parliament session.

Gender quotas have helped boost the number of women in many parliaments. Image: REUTERS

Emma Batha
Journalist, Thomson Reuters Foundation News
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Gender Inequality

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  • Just over 25% of lawmakers globally are women, and the introduction of gender quotas has supported many recent gains, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU).
  • Women make up at least half of parliament in six countries, according to IPU data.
  • But they hold fewer than 10% of seats in more than 20 countries.
  • The country with the biggest share of women in parliament is Rwanda, where they hold 60% of the seats.

The number of female lawmakers in Tunisia's parliament is set to plunge following a recent election in the North African country, which has traditionally been seen as a leader on women's rights in the region.

Initial results suggest women will hold just 16% of seats following voting in December and January, according to the Femmes et Leadership nonprofit organisation, down from 26% in 2021 and 31% in 2018.

But the picture in Tunisia is at odds with the global trend.

Just over one in four lawmakers overall are women, up from about one in five in 2011, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), a global organisation of national parliaments that tracks data on women's representation.

The introduction of gender quotas is a key factor behind many recent gains, according to the IPU.

More than two-thirds of countries that have passed the 40% mark have some form of quota, either for candidates or reserved seats.

But some other countries have seen little change. At the current rate, gender parity in national legislative bodies will not be achieved globally before 2063, according to UN Women.

Here is a snapshot of progress and rollbacks. The data refers to the make-up of the lower chamber in countries with bicameral parliaments.

A chart showing women MPs in Tunisia backslides after 2023 election.
Gender parity in national legislative bodies will not be achieved globally before 2063. Image: Context.

Countries leading the way:

Women make up at least half of parliament in six countries, according to IPU data.

Way out in front is Rwanda, where women hold more than 60% of seats and which in 2008 became the first country to have a female-majority parliament. Women also outnumber men in Cuba (53%) and Nicaragua (52%).

New Zealand, Mexico and the United Arab Emirates have an even gender split, while Iceland, Costa Rica, Sweden and South Africa are not far off.

Countries doing badly:

Bottom of the list is Yemen, which does not have a single female lawmaker, while Vanuatu has just one.

Women hold fewer than 10% of seats in more than 20 countries including Nigeria (3.6%), Qatar (4.4%) and Iran (5.6%).

Despite having the world's first female prime minister in 1960, Sri Lanka is another laggard, with women only making up about 5% of parliament for the last 25 years.

In Japan, which ranks lowest among the world's big economies, women hold just 10% of seats.

Countries making big strides:

The United Arab Emirates did not have any women in its Federal National Council before 2006, but achieved gender parity in 2019 following a presidential decree.

Dominica, Chad, Mali and Uzbekistan have also made significant progress in recent years.

Countries that saw gains following elections last year include Australia, Colombia, Equatorial Guinea, Malta and Slovenia.

A new gender empowerment law in Sierra Leone, where women hold 13% of seats, will ensure they make up at least 30% of the parliament and cabinet after elections in June.

Worldwide, only a fifth of government ministers are women - and they are often given portfolios related to issues such as health, family, social affairs and the environment.

Countries which have appointed female-majority cabinets include Spain, Albania, Colombia and Rwanda.

Countries going backwards:

Algeria and Tunisia are the main backsliders globally.

In 2021, Algeria saw the share of women in parliament fall from 26% to 8% following changes to its quota system.

The setback came despite women accounting for 37% of election candidates.

The IPU said changes to the election law were exacerbated by blatant discrimination, with women's faces often blurred in campaign materials and their photos replaced with blank avatars on ballot papers.

In Tunisia, the latest fall follows a previous drop in 2019. As in Algeria, women say changes to the electoral system have made it harder for them to contest and win seats.

In Afghanistan, the Taliban Islamist group has erased women from public life since seizing the country in 2021.

Before the takeover, women had held 27% of seats in the now defunct National Assembly. Many former women MPs have fled the country.

Sources: IPU, World Bank, UN Women

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