The global average for women’s representation in parliament has inched up from 14.1 to 26.2 percent in the last two decades. That is progress, but still well below the one-third threshold generally considered the minimum needed to shape law and policy for gender equality. Gender gaps are the widest in political and economic empowerment, while they have almost closed in other key measures of equality such as health and education. According to the 2021 Global Gender Gap Report, at the current rate of progress, it will take 145.5 years to close the gender gap in political empowerment and a staggering 267.6 years to achieve equal economic participation.
The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately hit women and increased the global gender gap, which will require an extra 36 years – more than another generation – to be closed. The pandemic has further exposed women’s underrepresentation in decision-making: although women are at the centre of the COVID-19 response – e.g., as healthcare workers, educators and care providers, they represent only 24 percent of members of COVID-19 task forces worldwide, and only 18 percent of task-force leaders.
The Generation Equality Forum, which took place in Mexico City in March and in Paris from 30 June-2 July 2021, underlined the urgency of realizing the commitments made in the landmark Beijing Women’s Conference. It brought together governments, civil society, private sector, entrepreneurs, trade unions, artists, academia and social influencers to drive urgent action and accountability for gender equality. One of its six action coalitions, on Feminist Movements and Leadership, has launched a global acceleration plan to advance women’s leadership by 2026. The coalition calls for actions to address harmful social norms and gender stereotypes, defend civic space, including online, and develop and implement gender-transformative policies and regulations addressing women’s underrepresentation in decision-making. The coalition has committed to accelerate results through four core actions: increasing funding for women-led, girl-led and feminist-led movements and organizations; promoting and expanding civic space for women’s rights defenders, women peacebuilders, trans, intersex and non-binary people and people from marginalized communities; adopting transformative feminist approaches to policy-making; and creating safe and inclusive spaces to co-create decision-making processes.
After a decade of slow growth, women’s political empowerment (gender ratios in ministerial and parliamentary positions, and the ratio of years that women and men have served as presidents or prime ministers) has dropped or reversed in recent years, partly because of women’s lower tenure as heads of state. Women are also underrepresented as leaders in the legislative: globally, only 22 percent of parliamentary Speakers are women. As a result, the global gender gap in political empowerment has widened.
In the last decade, 52 countries and territories have raised the proportion of women in parliament. However, women occupy more than 30 percent seats in only 30 of these, despite the fact that this threshold was the internationally agreed minimum target set in 1990, emphasized in the Beijing Platform in 1995 and later in the Agenda 2030 in 2015. Among them are Iceland and Andorra with 47.6 and 46.4 percent respectively, Serbia with 40 percent, North Macedonia with 41.7 percent and Kosovo* with 35 percent. Moldova registered a record increase of almost 16 percent, from 24.8 percent in 2020 to 40.6 percent in 2021.
Several countries and territories have implemented measures to bolster the number of women in politics, as a result of sustained efforts by women’s networks in parliament and local assemblies and pressure from women’s rights advocates. The most notable legislation in this area has been electoral gender quotas for candidates in parliamentary and local elections.