Record Number of Women Serving in Parliaments Worldwide

A survey finds a record number of women are serving as members of parliament worldwide. The report by the Inter-Parliamentary Union shows last year, women occupied nearly 22 percent of parliamentary seats. That is an increase of 1.5 percentage points -- double the average rate of increase in recent years.

A 1.5 percent increase in the number of women who are members of parliaments globally may not sound like a lot. But the Inter-Parliamentary Union says if this trend continues, it could lead to gender parity in parliaments in 20 years.

The IPU says the increase in the number of women MPs is due to more countries using measures such as legislative and voluntary quotas to make it easier for women to become elected or appointed to houses of parliament.

A survey of 189 countries shows Rwanda, Andorra, Cuba, Sweden, and South Africa top the rankings of women in national Parliaments. Micronesia, Palau, Qatar, and Vanuatu, which have all male legislatures, are at the bottom of the rankings.

The report notes the Americas lead as the region with the highest average of women MPs at 15.2 percent. But, it says the Arab world made the largest gains last year, with the appointment of 30 women to Saudi Arabia's Shura Council and 18 women elected to the Jordanian parliament.

IPU Secretary-General Anders Johnsson says Africa continues to make steady progress. He says almost 20 years ago, Africa had fewer than 10 percent women parliamentarians. Today it has 22.5 percent.

"Some of the world's best performing countries are in Africa, including the best performing country, which is Rwanda where it is the first country ever to have more than 60 percent women in parliament," he said. "When there is public focus, public pressure, public attention and public support -- and that is the case particularly in African countries - then you get results. So, you have seen that last year in Cameroon. You have seen it in Kenya. You have seen it in Togo. You have seen it in Zimbabwe -- all countries that did very well."

While the number of women MPs continues to grow in Europe, the report notes the Asia-Pacific region is bucking this healthy regional trend. It says without Australia to shore up the numbers, women would count for just 3.2 percent of all parliamentarians in the Pacific.

Manager of IPU's Gender Program Kareen Jabre tells VOA a parliament without women is not representative of the world. She says a parliament without women cannot be effective because it is not aware of the realities and priorities of half of the population of the world.

"We carried out a survey of parliamentarians three, four years ago where we asked them what did women bring when they came to parliament and the first thing that MPs responded, they changed the priorities that were discussed in parliament and brought new priorities to the floor of parliament and one of the first issues they brought up was violence against women, in particular domestic violence, which, of course, concerns women more than men and which, of course, if you were in a gathering of only men will be less likely to come up as an issue, than if you have women around the table as well," she said.

The IPU report finds more women last year were targets of political violence. It says electoral violence -- which includes intimidation, threats, physical assault and other aggression -- acts as a deterrent to keep women out of politics.

VOA News / Mar. 05, 2014 08:11 KST