Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

Gender equality: How many women hold cabinet positions in 2024?

Despite some progress on gender parity, cabinet roles are still dominated by men.

Despite some progress on gender parity, cabinet roles are still dominated by men. Image: Shutterstock.

Ionica Berevoescu
Statistician, UN Women
Julie Ballington
Global Policy Advisor, UN Women
Lana Ačkar
Policy Specialist, UN Women
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  • Global comparable data on women in cabinet positions, in the latest Global Gender Gap Report 2024, shows limited gains towards equal participation.
  • Most countries are far from reaching gender parity in cabinet positions, but global trends towards more inclusive cabinets can be accelerated.
  • Women ministers are leading in areas like human rights and gender equality, but remain a minority in areas such as defence, justice and home affairs.

Global data gaps on women in political decision-making positions are being closed, providing much needed evidence to assess countries’ progress toward gender equality. Most recently, the measurement of women’s representation in cabinet positions was strengthened by UN Women by defining clear and transparent criteria for global comparisons, based on agreed concepts, mapping of legislative frameworks on cabinet compositions in all countries, and expert technical meetings. These criteria are practical to implement and reduce the space for interpretation of what needs to be measured, thus ensuring feasibility, reliability, comparability and quality of the global data.

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The focus of the measurement is on the cabinet members who lead policy-making areas as heads of ministries. These are the single common cabinet positions across all countries, and for many countries, they are the only type of cabinet positions. The select group of political executives occupying them hold both (a) the highest individual policy-making power as leaders of specific state policy fields, directly reporting to the head of government; and (b) the highest executive power as members of the collective decision-making body that is the cabinet, impacting policy-making areas beyond their individual fields.

The new UN Women methodology is part of a global effort to close data and knowledge gaps on participation in political and public affairs and contribute to the development of a new area of official statistics, governance statistics. One notable development of the last decade are a brand new series of sustainable development goals (SDGs) indicators that monitor inclusive participation in public affairs (SDG Goal 16) and women’s political representation beyond parliament, at the level of local government.

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This work not only brings new data sets to assess how countries fare on women’s political participation, but also makes the monitoring of governance processes central to official statistics. The global data compiled by UN Women would not exist without the collaboration of hundreds of national partners, officials from national statistical offices and other government entities. In turn, the global work contributes to national capacity building and increased use of official statistics on women’s political participation, and overall governance statistics, to inform national policy-making.

Data on women’s representation in cabinet positions are compiled at the beginning of each year, based on a quick turnaround exercise with the Permanent Missions to the United Nations fully involved. In parallel, the UN Women team is monitoring official government websites showing the composition of cabinets to increase the dialogue with the Permanent Missions and secure efficient reporting of sound data. The resulting data have been disseminated, most recently, in joint UN Women – IPU publications: (Women in Politics 2023), other UN Women knowledge products (Women Political Leaders 2024), and the UN Minimum Set of Gender Indicators. The data also informed the political empowerment subindex for the 2023 and 2024 editions of the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report.

How are regions and countries faring when it comes to gender parity?

The data showed that cabinet positions remained dominated by men. Globally, 23.3% of cabinet members heading ministries were women, a small increase by half percentage point compared to the previous year. The share of women is higher in Europe and Northern Africa (32.5%) and lowest in Central and Southern Asia (9.5%).

Only 15 countries had gender-parity cabinets, including 10 in Europe, three in Latin America and the Caribbean and two in Sub-Saharan Africa. The majority of countries (100) had in between 10-30% women in cabinets. Most worrisome, 31 countries (from all regions, but especially from Central and Southern Asia, Oceania, and Western Africa and Northern Africa) had less than 10% women. Seven countries, among which three in the Pacific Islands, had no women cabinet ministers.

Number of countries by share of women cabinet ministers and SDG regions, 1 January 2024. Source: UN Women.
Number of countries by share of women cabinet ministers and SDG regions, 1 January 2024. Source: UN Women.

The modest annual increase in women’s representations in cabinet positions suggests the world is decades away from gender parity (an earlier UN projection estimated that, at this rate of progress, gender parity in cabinets will not be reached before 2077). Furthermore, much remains to be done to achieve equality beyond numerical representation. As heads of ministries, women are setting policy agendas for gender equality, family and children affairs, and social inclusion and development, but are largely missing at the helm of defence, justice and home affairs, and economic policy-making areas. This gender allocation of portfolios mirrors discriminatory gender roles in many societies and is particularly striking in Eastern and South-eastern Asia, Northern Asia and Northern Africa, and Central and Southern Asia.

Share of women cabinet ministers (%) by type of portfolio held and SDG regions, 1 January 2024. Source: UN Women.
Share of women cabinet ministers (%) by type of portfolio held and SDG regions, 1 January 2024. Image: UN Women

What can be done to accelerate gender equality?

However, progress on equal participation in cabinets can be accelerated. State leaders have a key role in setting the composition of their cabinets, and the number of women included demonstrates the importance they place on gender equality in decision-making. The best practices are to include women not as merely symbolic acts, but to entrust them with portfolios across all policy-making areas, including areas traditionally held by men, such as justice and foreign affairs in Finland, or defence and financial affairs in Spain, over the last two years. Thus, women are not just present, but influential in shaping policies and driving changes for better lives for both women and men.

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