Happy International Women’s Day everyone! As the world celebrates the achievements and continued struggles of 51 percent of the population, let’s take a moment to review how much progress women have made in attaining political representation, as determined by their level of participation in national legislatures.
According to a World Bank study cited by Vox, as of 2015 only two countries had legislatures that were majority women: Rwanda (64 percent) and Bolivia (53 percent). Runners up were a mixed bag that included Cuba (49 percent), Seychelles (44 percent), Sweden (44 percent), and Senegal (43 percent).
For the interactive version of this map, click here.
At least six countries have no women representatives, including Qatar and Yemen, and many more national legislatures had fewer than 10 percent women, including such big countries as Nigeria, Iran, Japan, and Congo.
Most countries seemed to be somewhere in the middle, with anywhere from a fifth to a quarter of their legislators being women; the overall global average was 22.5 percent. Both the world’s largest democracy, India, its oldest continuous one, the United States, were below the global average, at 11 and 19 percent, respectively. This was well behind other leading democracies like Canada, France, Germany, and the U.K., and even less than the likes of Afghanistan, Honduras, and South Sudan.
You can view the full chart here.
While the U.S. lags behind much of the world, it has made tremendous progress over the past two decades; in 1990, only seven percent of Congress was comprised of women, less than half the amount.
This is actually part of a broader worldwide trend: according to the World Bank, in 1997, women made up a little less than 12 percent of the world’s national legislatures compared to 22.54 percent today, almost doubling.
As the following chart shows, this growth has held steady through the years.
It is interesting to see what a mixed bag the world’s most women-dominated legislatures are; the top countries are wildly different in terms of culture, society, wealth, and political system. The top two, Rwanda and Bolivia, are poor, fragile, and relatively new democracies; Cuba is an autocracy whose legislators hold little real power; Sweden is one of the world’s freest and most prosperous nations.
This goes to show that higher representation in national legislatures is not necessarily indicative of real power and rights on the part of women; after all, South Africa and Afghanistan do fairly well in this regard, yet each suffer from high rates of violence and oppression directed towards women. Nevertheless, by and large there is a correlation between the amount of women in a national legislature and how well women fare overall.
Moreover, how many women participate in national politics does reflect, to some degree, how they are regarded by society; in the case of the U.S. for example — and I would wager other countries — women are just as likely to succeed in an election as men, but are far less inclined to actually make the attempt. It all depends on the sorts of expectations, barriers, and conditioning women are subjected to both institutionally and socially.
What are your thoughts?