Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

Spain might introduce a cabinet gender equality law. What would that mean?

A woman speaking about gender parity - women in politics

It will take another 155 years to reach gender parity in political empowerment, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap. Image: REUTERS/Juan Medina

Kate Whiting
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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This article was originally published on 27 March, 2023 and updated on 11 April, 2023.

  • The Spanish government has approved a draft Equal Representation Law that would require men and women each to hold at least 40% of cabinet roles.
  • New Zealand has achieved gender equity in its government cabinet for the first time in the country's history. But it will take another 155 years to reach gender parity in political empowerment, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2022.
  • Diversity leads to better decision-making – which is needed now more than ever, says Frances Scott, the founder of UK campaign 50:50 Parliament.

“In all the places where decisions are made, gender parity is far from being achieved.”

That’s the verdict of the United Nations (UN) in its Progress on the Sustainable Development Goals: The Gender Snapshot 2022.

The UN report found that, in 2022, fewer than half of leadership roles in public-sector institutions, from the government to the police, were occupied by women, although globally they make up 46% of the public sector workforce.

Similarly, the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2022 found Political Empowerment to be the least closed of the four key gaps tracked, at just 22% closed – and it will take another 155 years to close it.

However, progress is being made. Spain might be about to level the playing field for women in politics, after the Spanish government approved a draft Equal Representation Law in early March, that would require each sex to hold at least 40% of cabinet roles.

And New Zealand now has more women than men in its government executive (including ministers outside the cabinet), The Guardian reports.

A bar chart showing participation of women in selected public sector leadership positions and occupations.
Only 14% of heads of state or government were women in 2022. Image: UN

How Spain is working towards gender parity in politics

Announcing the draft legislation, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said: “If women represent half of society then half of the political power and half of the economic power must belong to women.”

When it was approved by the cabinet – currently consisting of more than 60% women – on 7 March, it made Spain one of the first countries in Europe to set legally binding quotas on gender representation.

Political parties must also field equal numbers of male and female candidates under the draft law, which still needs to be voted on by Spain’s parliament.

The law also extends to businesses, requiring women to make up 40% of the management of any publicly listed company with more than 250 workers and an annual turnover of 50 million euros ($53 million), Reuters reports.

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Why do we need more women in politics?

"More women in political leadership tends to create a powerful role model effect as well as decisions that represent broader parts of the population," said the Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2022.

It’s a view shared by Frances Scott, who spoke to the Forum about the 50:50 Parliament UK campaign she set up in 2013, when women were outnumbered 3:1.

That ratio is now 2:1 – with the latest figures showing women make up 31% of parliamentarians in the UK.

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"Representation shapes policy. Diversity leads to better decision-making and, as Christine Lagarde said, it leads to less risky decision-making. In her opinion, there might not have been a financial crisis if we'd had more women on boards,” said Scott.

“We are facing some of the biggest challenges that humanity has had to deal with, and half of humanity are women – we need to be involved in planning the future.”

New Zealand's Prime Minister Chris Hipkins also believes gender equity is vital to decision-making. “It means that we’re more closely representing the population,” he told The Guardian after the latest cabinet reshuffle, which has resulted in a 50:50 split of men and women.

Global progress to close the politics gender gap

Politics gender gap: The number of women heads of state has grown over the past five decades.
Politics gender gap: The number of women heads of state has grown over the past five decades. Image: World Economic Forum.

In the 16 years from 2006 to 2022, the global average share of women in ministerial positions and in parliament almost doubled, from 9.9% to 16.1% and 14.9% to 22.9%, respectively, according to the Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2022.

But that’s still a long way from parity and there was no overall progress last year.

Among the countries covered by the index, only 12 have closed more than 50% of their political empowerment gap: Iceland, Finland, Norway, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Rwanda, Germany, Bangladesh, Sweden, Ireland and South Africa.

Iceland comes top for having had more women as head of state than any other country over the past 50 years – and a comparatively high share of women MPs.

A graphic showing the proportion of women and men in the European Parliament. gender. women in politics
How the number of female MEPs has increased. Image: European Parliament.

In 2019, the European Parliament called on European political parties to ensure both women and men were put forward for its ninth parliamentary term.

Women now account for 39.3% of MEPs, up from 36.5% at the end of the previous term.

As Spain’s finance minister Nadia Calviño said, as she welcomed the draft law: “It’s clear that we’ve come a long way… but there is still a lot to do.”

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