• August 4, 2014
  • Reed

Women are still highly underrepresented in legislatures across the world, but the variation is large from country to country. According to data from the World Development Indicators, although women make up over 50 percent of the world population, as of late 2013 (IPU), the average share of women in legislative positions was only 21.5 percent.

Low level of female participation in legislative positions reflects cultural, social and economic disadvantages women face today.

Check out the interactive with the full list of countries!

Which countries have the highest share of women legislators today?

The 6 countries with the highest female representation in 2013

There are large regional variations in the share of women in legislative positions. Nordic countries have the highest regional average with forty-two percent of parliament seats held by women. That is nearly double the world average: Sweden 44.7%, Finland 42.7%, Iceland 39.7%, Norway 39.6% and Denmark 39.1%.

Some Latin American countries also have well above-average shares of women legislators. Forty-three percent of Cuba’s parliament seats are woman-held, Nicaragua 40.2%, and Costa Rica 36.8%. Argentina at 40% stands out from its neighbors Chile 14%, Paraguay 17%, and Uruguay 14%.

Of all 220 countries measured by IPU, Rwanda ranks highest with 63.8 percent of legislative seats held by women in 2013, which also makes it the only country with a female-dominated parliament.

With women in only 17.9 percent of legislative seats, the United States ranked below the world average despite its roles as a global advocate for female rights.

What techniques are effective in increasing representation by women?

Quota systems are effective and come in many forms, and they are used at different levels in governments around the world. Despite the variety, gender quota systems all share a similar goal. From the quotaProject website, “the core idea behind quota systems is to recruit women into political positions and to ensure that women are not only a few tokens in political life.” Quota systems have been implemented by a diverse group of countries such as Algeria, Rwanda, Argentina, France, Iraq, South Africa, Bangladesh, Brazil, and Burundi. Most countries on that list have seen remarkable progress since beginning their programs.

The vertical orange line on each chart indicates the year a gender quota law was implemented.

6 countries with quota laws implemented in the last 15 years

In Rwanda, women were brought into power after the tragic genocide of 1994, which changed its demographics dramatically. However, women didn’t become a major political force in Rwanda until 2003 when the Constitution included a mandated quota of 30% reserved seats for all women in legislature. This precedent caused female representation to rise from 26% to 49%.

In Algeria, the quota system resulted in women holding 147 out of 462 seats in parliament, the highest rate for women in the Arab region.

Does education correlate to female political power on the national scale? We look at the female-to-male education enrollment ratio by country. The charts below present a comparison of the gender ratio in classrooms with share of women legislators, at three different levels of education. As the green line shows, there is a positive correlation between women’s education and their political representation, but the the education measure explains a small portion of the variation.

Female/male enrollment ratios ratio in primary, secondary and tertiary education.

Female/male enrollment ratios in primary, secondary and tertiary education enrollment. Each dot represents a country listed in the IPU report.

Support for female education is still warranted and likely to be a necessary condition for improvement.

Check out the interactive with the full list of countries!

Co-authored by Reed Spool and Youyou Zhou

Data for each country gathered from the World Bank’s World Development Indicators including the proportion of women in national parliament, female-to-male ratios in primary, secondary, and tertiary education enrollment. Quota law information primarily gathered from quotaProject and Mona Lena Krook. Data have been interpolated to fit smoothed lines.