BRIDGETOWN, Barbados – While Dominica, Grenada and Trinidad and Tobago are among the countries in the Caribbean and Americas region where women ministers are nearing or exceeding the gender parity position of 30 per cent of representatives, the number of women in executive government and in parliament worldwide has stagnated, with only marginal improvements since 2015, according to the data presented in the Women in Politics 2017 Map launched by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) and UN Women.
The map, which depicts global rankings for women in the executive and parliamentary branches of government as of 1 January 2017, shows slow progress towards gender equality in these areas at regional and national levels. The presentation took place at a joint IPU-UN Women press conference in New York, in the context of the ongoing session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW61).
Women’s political empowerment and equal access to leadership positions at all levels are fundamental to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and a more equal world. With limited growth in women’s representation, advancement of gender equality and the success of the SDGs are jeopardised.
The 2017 edition of the map shows a slight drop in the number of countries with a woman head of state and/or head of government from 2015 figures (from 19 to 17). However, the data reveals a significant increase in the number of countries with a woman head of state and/or head of government since the IPU-UN Women map’s first edition in 2005 (from 8 to 17).
Progress in the number of women members of parliament worldwide continues to be slow. IPU data shows that the global average of women in national parliaments increased just slightly from 22.6 per cent in 2015 to 23.3 per cent in 2016. Women speakers of parliament have however significantly increased in number, now at an all-time high of 19.1 per cent, but obviously still far from gender balance.
“These developments show that progress in gender equality remains slow in all structures of power and types of decision-making. Power is still firmly in men’s hands, and although we have witnessed some positive trends—for example, the current record number of 53 women speakers of parliament out of 273 posts, globally—much remains to be done if women are to play on a level field with men,” said IPU Secretary-General Martin Chungong. “Equal representation in positions of power is a fundamental precondition for truly effective and accountable democracy.”
The number of women ministers barely changed, rising to a total of 732 (compared to 730 in 2015); women’s participation at the ministerial level now stands at 18.3 per cent.
The top five countries with the largest share of women ministers are in Europe and the Americas. Bulgaria, France, Nicaragua, Sweden and Canada have surpassed the 50 per cent mark of women in ministerial positions. These results can be largely attributed to a clear political commitment at the highest decision-making level—both France and Canada’s leadership have committed to parity in government—and to a genuinely gender-sensitive political culture. Sweden has the world’s first self-proclaimed feminist government, and Bulgaria has seen an overall increase in women’s participation and decision-making in all spheres of power in public and private sectors, both nationally and internationally.
By contrast, Finland and Cabo Verde—which in 2015 had high rates of women ministers, ranking first and second, respectively—fell significantly behind. Finland saw a dramatic decline in women ministers in 2017, dropping from 62.5 to 38.5 per cent. Cabo Verde, normally a high-flyer, fell from 52.9 to 25 per cent (a 52.8 per cent loss of its share of women cabinet members).
“These data powerfully tell the story of the persistent missing voice of women,” said UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. “We can see that over time, the overall proportions of women in politics are changing for the better, although certainly not fast enough. However, the overall stagnation and specific reversals are warning bells of erosion of equality that we must heed and act on rapidly. The drive to protect women’s rights and achieve substantive equality for women in leadership will take joint action across parliaments, governments, civil society and international organizations. This must include the repeal or amendment of existing discriminatory laws, and the support of women in all forms of representation, including at the highest levels of government.”