Politics has long been considered as a 'man's world.' Even today, women remain significantly underrepresented in legislative and executive branches of government globally despite research that suggests a strong connection between women in leadership and economic and democratic gains.

  • Today one-fifth of the world's parliamentarians and less than one quarter of national leaders are women. 
  • Rwanda, Cuba and Bolivia have the highest share of women parliamentarians, however, Europe has traditionally maintained the highest representation of women in government. As of June 2016, the ratio of men and women lawmakers in Belgium, Sweden, Finland, and Iceland was about three to two.
  • Countries of Asia and Oceania demonstrate persistent underrepresentation of women, despite progress made toward changing the political landscape during the last twenty years. 

Statistics suggest that past gender disparities may be eroding as more and more women have risen to positions of power. During the last two decades, the share of women parliamentarians in the world has doubled, increasing from 10.8 percent in 1997 to 21.2 percent in 2016. 

  • On the whole, all countries to greater or lesser extents increased women's participation in their respective political systems during the reference period with the exception of only nine countries, among which North Korea performed the worst.
  • African countries, especially Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Senegal, witnessed particularly significant progress in empowering women within government ranks. 
  • In the Arab States, progress has been uneven. While the United Arab Emirates and Syria made gains in 2016, there was no change in the male-female distribution in the parliamentary chambers of Kuwait or Qatar. In Kuwait, one woman has been the exclusive female representative in parliament for several years, while Qatar remains the only country in the region committed to a male-only parliament.

Research supports a link between countries in which women are empowered as political leaders and higher standards of living. As such, the argument can be made that measures should be taken to encourage development of women into political leaders to build sustainable democracies and meet global development goals. 

  • Research shows a positive relation between the share of women parliamentarians and GDP per capita
  • In addition, as more women are elected to office, there is a corresponding shift in policy priorities toward family, women, and ethnic and racial minorities that bolsters democratic values.

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