Does a high percentage of women in the parliament mean a greater gender equality for a country? A quick look on numbers

Women in national parliaments are important actors of change. They bring new perspectives regarding political issues (their effectiveness has been proven over all in themes of peace-building and poverty’s reduction), give more visibility to women in decision-making process and modify popular outlooks on women’s role.

By the same token, a high number of female deputies shows that a society recognizes women’s ability to build up a country’s future and tends to be more proportionally represented on the political level.

The link between women in parliaments, gender equality and democracy seems thus clear. However, I wanted to see whether this logic is reflected in reality. For that reason I looked for picturing it through some statistics.

 

Top 10 countries with the highest female representation in the parliament 10 top countries with the highest level of gender equality *
Rwanda – 51,9% Iceland – 0,8594
Andorra – 50% Finland – 0,8453
Cuba – 48,9% Norway – 0,8374
Bolivia – 48% Sweden – 0,8165
Sweden – 44,7% Denmark – 0,8025
Seychelles – 43,8% Nicaragua – 0,7894
Senegal – 42,7% Rwanda – 0,7854
Finland – 42,5% Ireland – 0,7853
South Africa – 41,1% Philippines – 0,7814
Nicaragua – 40,2% Belgium – 0,7809

*Following 2013 Gender Gap Report by World Economic Forum measuring inequalities in four fields: health, education, economy and politics; countries are given scores from 0 to 1, the highest one describing the perfect gender equality)

 

Some remarks:

  • Only four countries appear in both rankings (Finland, Sweden, Nicaragua and Rwanda). Focusing on the geographical location, it can be observed that the countries with the highest percentages of women in parliaments are dispersed (Africa, Latin America and Europe), while those with the lowest gender gap, concentrated in North Europe.
  • One should always bear in mind that women’s representation is only one of various aspects taking in account while measuring gender equality. If women are not professionally active or they do not have access to decent health infrastructure, the gender gap will still persist. It can explain why North European countries lead in gender equality trends, without, however, having the highest number of female deputies.
  • The high female participation in the parliament should be seen rather as a facilitator of the change. It can be a sign that a society feels a need of transformation (like for instance in Rwanda, a country with the daunting past of one of the most horrible genocides in the world) or be a result of gender equality’s politics already put in place (like for example in Bolivia where thanks to a strong lobbying of women’s organization and the introduction of 30% quota system, 2014 elections finished with an outstanding result of 48% of female deputies).
  • It is not about the quantity, but about the quality. Although as said before women’s presence in political institutions is crucial to changing the political agenda and giving attention to gender issues, not every female politician will defend or encourage gender equality. In other words, beside the critical mass, the quality of representation is also necessary to make a step forward.
  • Finally, political representation is much more than only parliamentary work. Women should be present in institutions, governments, but also within the local representation, where they are in direct contact with the population.
  • Last but not least, no country member of G8, the group of the leading world’s economies, is ranked in one of those two lists. It is rather a sad feature displaying that although many positive changes have been taking place in the matter of political empowerment of women, there is still a long way to go.
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