Wednesday, March 06, 2013

International Women's Day - a record year for Women MPs according to the IPU - Quotas and PR electoral systems.

Lesley’s International Women’s Day Letter. 

There have been oodles of depressing news this past year for women so let me give you a few reasons to celebrate.

Good news! 2012 was  a year of higher than usual level of progress on women’s election to parliaments. I have been tracking and promoting women’s progress in parliaments globally for over 30 years because I am convinced this is the key to democratic transformation and to every aspect of progress for women’s rights and equality,  including addressing violence against women.  Progress never feels fast enough, but it is moving in the right direction.

According to a new Inter-parliamentary Union (IPU) report, in   2012 the global average of women in parliaments rose to 20.3 per cent, up from 19.5 per cent in 2011. This is nearly double the usual annual rate of increase. 33 lower houses of parliaments and 17 upper houses reached the 30% threshold necessary for women parliamentarians to have an impact on decision-making. This is more than triple the number 10 years ago.

Countries  with the highest electoral gains for women MPs in 2012 elections? 

The three countries with the highest gains of women MPs in 2012 were:  Senegal (42.7% women MPs), Timor Leste (38.5%) Algeria  (31.6 %).  All three countries used legislated quotas for the first time.


The high percentage of women elected in Senegal, brought Africa’s regional average for women MPs up to 20.4 per cent. Sub-Saharan Africa now has four parliaments in the top ten world rankings of women in parliament. Senegal’s 2012 elections were the first to be held since the adoption of a gender parity law in 2010. It requires that all candidate lists for legislative, regional, municipal and rural elections comprise equal numbers of men and women candidates, with men’s and women’s names alternated. Non- compliance with the gender parity requirement disqualified parties from the electoral process. In addition to enforcing the law, the government and women’s organizations conducted a large-scale public awareness campaign and training sessions for women candidates.

In Sierra Leone, voters showed they were more progressive than the political parties.  According to the Media the 15 successful women scored the highest percentage of votes in the elections, beating all their male counterparts and illustrating that political parties may not be as supportive of women candidates as the electorate. The 10 parties had all agreed to seek more women candidates as part of a drive to increase the proportion of women lawmakers from less than 20 per cent in the outgoing parliament to at least 30 per cent, but the parties chose only 38 women out of their 586 candidates.

Arab countries

Algeria is the first and only Arab country to have more than 30% women in a region which  has so far failed to deliver on the promise of democratic change for women in the Arab Spring countries of Egypt and Libya and which continues to have the lowest regional average –13.2 per cent.  


In Asia  too there were notable successes in women’s parliamentary representation. . Timor Leste (up 10.8 percentage points) and an increase of 9.6 percentage points in Mongolia.
Asia is the slow and steady tortoise in the race, but at least the figures are moving in the right direction. The regional average increased by 3 percentage points from 15.2 percent in 2002 to 17.9 percent in 2012.


Women made a few advances in Europe in 2012.  Due to quota legislation  the percentage of women in the Serbian parliament increased from 22% to 32.2% and in France from 19% to 27%.  European countries have made improvements over the past 10 years. The region now has an average of
23.2 per cent women MPs, up from 17.4 per cent in 2002.
The Americas
The Americas, have the highest regional average in the world. (24.1%,).  In 2012 a record number of women were elected in Mexico, El Salvador Jamaica and the United States of America (USA. ).  In Mexico the percentage of women elected leapt from 26% to 37%. The USA, where women now account for 18 per cent in the House of Representatives and 20 per cent in the Senate, saw an unprecedented number of women candidates. Nevertheless, the USA jumped only one place in world rankings from 78th to 77th in 2012.

Lessons identified? Quotas combined with a PR Electoral system,

IPU Secretary General Anders B. Johnsson says,

“Although quotas remain contentious in some parts of the world, they remain key to progress on a fundamental component of democracy - gender parity in political representation. There can be no claim to democracy without delivering on this.”

9 out of the top 10 countries with the highest increase in the number of women MPs in their lower house of parliament used quotas and had a proportional representation (PR)  electoral system.

7 out of the 9 lower houses of parliament with a decrease in women MPs did not use quotas.     Where no quotas were used, women took just 12 per cent of seats, well below the global average.

22 of the 48 countries holding elections last year used quotas. Where quotas had been legislated, women took 24%  of parliamentary seats; with voluntary quotas,  women they took 22% of seats.

Quotas need to be accompanied by sanctions for non-compliance and women candidates should be placed in winnable positions on party lists. Political commitment to including women’s parliamentary participation is also a must.

PR Electoral system

It is easier to use a quota system with a PR voting system than with a first past the post system. In addition PR delivered a much higher percentage of women MPs (25%) in 2012 than first-past-the-post (14%) or a mixture of the two systems (17.5%).

Statistics Source


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