Women representation and why it remains critical

Women representation and why it remains critical

Why does women representation matter?



According to Inter-Parliamentary Union, the percentage of women representation in parliaments across the world has risen from 13.1% in 2000 ( see Women in National Parliaments; Situation as of 25 January 2000) to 25.1% in 2020 (see Global and Regional Averages of Women in National Parliaments); amongst the regions that have recorded highest rise are Sub-Saharan Africa where the percentage of women legislators rose from 11.1% to 24.8% during that time while in the Middle East, the percentage of women legislators rose from 3.6% to 14.5%


While this progress is commendable, global female representation is still below 30% which has been identified as crucial level of representation to achieve the critical mass of female legislators to enable significant impact (see Critical Mass Theory and Women Political Representation). With women making up over 50% of the global population, political institutions cannot be democratically legitimate and responsive to all citizens if they do not reflect the plurality of groups that exist within the population


Impact of increased women legislators

There is a growing body of evidence that progress towards gender equality – for example, characterised by the enactment of laws that eliminate violence against women, increase opportunities for women at workplace (for example by introducing provisions for maternity leave and flexible working hours for nursing mothers), provide for universal health care – have coincided with an increasing number of female legislators around the world (see Taking Stock of Progress on Gender Equality Using Global State of Democracy Indices). Women legislators have traditionally placed high priority on women’s rights issues and ensured that these are a priority in parliaments’ agendas (see Do Women Legislators Have Different Priorities From Their Male Counterparts?)


According to a study carried out globally by the World Bank, an increase in a number of female legislators is related to increase in favourable work conditions for women and ensuring equality at the workplace. For example, the higher the number of parliamentary seats held by women, the more a country was likely to have anti-sexual harassment policies and legislation. Additionally, having more women in legislative bodies has been correlated with reduced gender gaps in paid work


Increasing the number of women in the executive arms of the government has also been related to better enforcement of laws outlawing gender and sexual-based violence. For example, it has been established the female victims of sex crimes (see Gender Representative Bureaucracy and Law Enforcement; The Case of Sexual Assault) are more willing to report those crimes to women police officers who in turn become more active in filing reports and enforcing sexual assault laws


With regard to property ownership, men generally tend to own and inherit property and other high-value assets at rates higher than women. Countries with laws that challenge these gender-based norms about property owners tend to have larger proportions of parliamentary seats held by women than countries without them


An increase in the number of women in legislative bodies is correlated to improvement in the quality of governance and democracy in a country. The top five countries in the Democracy Index (which ranks countries on parameters such as political participation, the functioning of government, civil liberties and political pluralism and elections), are Norway, Iceland, Sweden, New Zealand and Finland (The Economist Intelligence Unit 2019 Democracy Index). These countries also have some of the highest numbers of women representatives in legislative bodies with Finland having 47% of its parliamentarians being female, Sweden 46.1%, Norway 41% while New Zealand and Iceland each have 38 of their parliamentarians being women



Broader representation of women in parliament has an enormous impact on what issues are raised and how policies are shaped. It has been demonstrated that women’s political participation results in tangible gains for democracy including greater responsiveness to women’s needs and increase in policymaking that emphasizes quality of life and reflects priorities of not only women but also of families and minority groups. In any case, a representative body such as parliament cannot be democratically legitimate if it excludes some of the groups that exist within a population

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