Parliament no longer men-only club, but still scope for change

In Tunisia women took almost 25% of the seats in the first post-revolution election. In Algeria they did even better with more than 30% – so well, in fact, that the Parliament building had to be adapted to install female toilets.

In France this week a record number of women – 155 – were returned to the national assembly.

So, is the world on the verge of a gender breakthrough politically? Proportional representation means many things to many people, but since the dawn of democracy there has been nothing proportional about representation at all for half the people on the planet.

The world average for women in Parliament stood at 19.5% in 2011, a 0.5 percentage point increase on the previous year. In light of recent gains, the average now stands at 19.8%. There is still some way to go.

Greece’s recent election provided a sobering counterpoint. Female candidates were assaulted live on television and just two women MPs were offered posts in the new Cabinet.

Gender public relations
Nordic countries have led the way internationally on “gender public relations”. With an average of 42% of MPs being female, it was the top region for women in politics in 2011. The United Kingdom has 145 female MPs, just more than 20%, putting it in 55th position globally, on a par with Malawi.

Kareen Jabre of the international Inter-Parliamentary Union believes that culture is still a crucial factor, as is the will of political parties to provide assistance and financial support to female candidates. The recent uprisings in the Arab region have led to hope that future political change will take an advancement of female participation into consideration.

“If you look at the countries that today have more than 30% of women in Parliament, you’ll find that a good third of them are actually post-conflict countries and have taken the opportunity to redraft their Constitution,” said Jabre.

The situation, however, still differs significantly by country. The number of women on the central committee in China is actually in decline and only one-fifth of Communist Party members are female.

Rwanda leads the way globally, being the first country in the world to have a majority of women in Parliament with 56%. It introduced a 30% quota as part of its post-genocide constitution.

Andorra, Sweden, South Africa and Cuba are also in the top 10 of the union’s rankings. – © Guardian News & Media 2012

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