2015 Report on women in parliament

An increase in the number of women Speakers of Parliament during 2015 and some regional successes were among the few highlights in what proved to be yet another disappointing year for women's participation in parliament, says the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU).

IPU's Women in Parliament 2015: the Year in Review released ahead of International Women's Day on 8 March, showed that for the second year in a row, the number of women Members of Parliament (MPs) across the world rose by a worryingly low 0.5 percentage point. Women now account for 22.6 percent of the world's MPs.

Although this figure is an all-time high and represents the continued upward trend for women in parliament, the rate of progress in 2015 was another setback from the 1.5 percentage point increase witnessed in 2013. That leap forward had raised hopes that if such a level of progress could be sustained, gender parity in parliament could be achieved within a generation.

With the percentage of women MPs in the world growing by just 6.4 points in the past 10 years, the snail-pace of 2015 has done little to inspire confidence that the trend will change any time soon.

The world has set new goals on gender equality and women's full and equal participation at all levels of decision-making within 15 years. IPU's 2015 statistics on women in parliament underline the urgent need for creative solutions and changing mindsets if there is any chance of meeting goals on political participation and empowerment, says IPU Secretary General Martin Chungong.

The low increase among women MPs is in sharp contrast to the relatively more positive development concerning women parliamentary leaders. The number of women Speakers of Parliament jumped from 43 to 49 (out of the 273 posts globally). Women now account for 17.9 per cent of all Speakers.

This 2.1 percentage point increase from 2014 figures means that the number of women Speakers is also at a record high. History was made in Namibia and Nepal, whose parliaments now have their first ever woman Speaker. It was made in the United Arab Emirates too, where the first woman Speaker of the Federal National Council also became the first woman Speaker in the Arab world.

As parliamentary leaders are among the most powerful political figures in their countries, women Speakers are not only critical role models and mentors for other women MPs, they are also vital to changing mindsets on delivering change.

Regional highlights

In a year where parliamentary elections took place in 58 countries, some regions did better than others and a few individual countries made dramatic progress.

The Americas, which has consistently held the highest regional average for women in parliament, once again bucked the global trend. Larger numbers of women candidates or their placement higher up on electoral lists, as well as the implementation of quotas or gender parity laws saw the Americas increase its regional average for women MPs by 0.8 percentage point. Women now account for 27.2 per cent of all MPs in the region.

In sub-Saharan Africa, where violence and conflict marred elections in a number of countries, women MPs nevertheless increased their numbers by 0.7 percentage point. With a regional average of 23.2 per cent women MPs, strongest electoral gains were made in Ethiopia and Tanzania, due mainly to quotas.

In Europe, voluntary quotas adopted by political parties in the United Kingdom or an equality law in Spain saw national milestones reached in both countries with the highest ever number of women MPs elected. Overall, Europe's regional average increased by 0.4 percentage point to 25.4 per cent for women MPs.

The Arab world continued to move forward on women¹s political participation, increasing its regional average by 0.3 percentage point to 17.5 per cent. A new parliamentary law in Egypt, defined after IPU provided guidance on enhancing women¹s political participation in the country, and a national electoral law in Sudan contributed to the progress made in this region.

Both the Asia and Pacific regions, however, remained virtually static with just a 0.1 percentage point increase in their numbers of women MPs. Over 10 years, these regions have seen the least progress on women's participation in parliament.

The top five countries where women MPs made the biggest gains were Suriname, Egypt, Ethiopia, Myanmar and the UK. Increases in numbers there ranged from 15.7 to 7.4 percentage points respectively.

The most dramatic national setbacks were in Andorra, Croatia and Burkina Faso. Here, the percentage of women MPs dropped by 14.3, 8.6 and 6.3 percentage points respectively, with an absence of quotas the main cause for the slide in Andorra. The number of parliaments in the world with no women at all also rose from five to seven.

The way ahead

Parliamentary election results in 2015 showed once again that quotas and proportional representation systems are more effective in getting more women into parliament. However, success continues to depend on how such measures or systems are implemented.

The IPU report also highlights the need to tackle impediments to women running for office, such as the lack of adequate finance for their campaigns, and reiterates the critical role of political parties in changing the status quo.

The decision by individual political parties in some countries to field higher numbers of women candidates or to place them in winnable positions shows what political leadership, will and vision can do to bring positive change, adds Secretary General Chungong. What we saw more of in 2015, however, was government leaders, including in Canada, increasingly setting the pace on women's equal participation at ministerial level. Parliaments must not lag behind.