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Women in the Parliaments of the world.

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RESEARCH NOTE Number 13, 7 March 1995 ISSN 1323-5664 Women in the Parliaments of the World The presence of women in national parliaments is one of the clearest indicators of women's participation in political processes1. Inter-Parliamentary Union studies of women in the Parliaments of the world in June 1991 and June 1993 demonstrate starkly the un-der-representation of women. As at 30 June 1991 women made up 11 per cent of the world's parlia-mentarians. By 30 June 1993 the figure for women's participation had dropped to 10.1 per cent. For its study, the IPU looked at the composition of the single or lower chamber of the parliament of each country (see table of se-lected countries). State or provin-cial parliaments, or upper houses of parliament, were not taken into account. Thus Australia, for ex-ample, appeared to have a lower representation than the 13.45 per cent for Federal Parliament achieved after the March 1993 election. In 1993, only the Seychelles reached near parity in men and women parliamentarians, with 45.8 per cent of women repre-sented in its monocameral par-liament. Finland (39% in 1993) Norway (36% in 1993) Sweden (34% in 1993 and now 40%) and Denmark (33% in 1993) are countries with a third or more women representatives. A num-ber of countries (Antigua /Barbuda, Belize, Bhutan, Dji-bouti, Jordan, Kiribati, Kuwait, Mauritania, Papua New Guinea, Saint Lucia and the United Arab 1. United Nations Centre for Social Development and Humanitarian Affairs. Women in Politics and Decision-Making in the Late Twentieth Century, A United Nations Study 1992. Emirates) have no women in their

lower chambers. In Kuwait

women do not have the vote nor may they be elected to parlia-ment.

The objective of achieving parity of political representation for

women has received a great deal of attention internationally, in-cluding at the United Nations. Innovative affirmative-action methods of achieving greater equality for women have been embarked upon in a number of

Lower Chamber Figures 30 June 1991 30 June 1993

Australia 6.7% 8.2%

Austria 21.8% 21.3%

Bangladesh 10.3% 10.3%

Belgium 8.5% 9.4%

Canada 13.2% 13.2%

Chile 5.8% 5.8%

China 21.3% 21.0%

Cuba 33.9% 22.8%

Czechoslovakia/Czech Republic 8.7% 10.0%

Denmark 33.0% 33.0%

El Salvador 8.3% 8.3%

Finland 38.5% 39.0%

France 5.7% 6.1%

Germany 20.4% 20.5%

Greece 5.3% 5.3%

Hungary 7.0% 7.3%

Iceland 23.8% 23.8%

India 7.1% 7.3%

Indonesia 12.4% 12.2%

Iraq 10.8% 10.8%

Iran 1.5% 3.4%

Ireland 7.8% 12.1%

Israel 6.7% 9.2%

Italy 12.8% 8.1%

Japan 2.3% 2.3%

Jordan 0.0% 0.0%

Malaysia 5.0% 5.0%

Netherlands 21.3% 29.3%

New Zealand 16.5% 16.5%

Nicaragua 16.3% 16.3%

Norway 35.8% 35.8%

Papua New Guinea 0.0% 0.0%

Philippines 9.0% 10.6%

Poland 13.5% 9.6%

Rep. of Macedonia (former Yugoslav) . . 4.2%

Romania 3.6% 3.5%

Rwanda 17.1% 17.1%

Singapore 4.9% 3.7%

South Africa 2.6% 2.8%

Spain 14.6% 16.0%

Sri Lanka 4.9% 4.9%

Sweden 38.1% 33.5%

Switzerland 14.0% 17.5%

Syrian Arab Republic 8.4% 8.4%

Thailand 3.8% 4.2%

Turkey 1.3% 1.8%

U.S.A. 6.4% 10.8%

Uganda 12.2% 12.6%

United Arab Emirates 0.0% 0.0%

United Kingdom 6.3% 9.2%

USSR 15.3%

Vietnam 17.7% 18.5%

Yugoslavia 17.7% 3.0%

countries. Practical courses of action which Parliaments can adopt to assist the progress to-wards full equality for women are likely to centre on the ratification and implementation of the Con-vention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and adoption of the Inter-Parliamentary Union Plan of Action to correct present im-balances in the participation of men and women in political life.

A number of countries, or politi-cal parties in a number of coun-tries, have already adopted quota systems to improve the represen-tation of women in parliament. An Inter-Parliamentary Survey carried out among the 150 na-tional Parliaments existing as of 31 October 1991 revealed that at least five countries had, in vari-ous forms and to differing de-grees, included a quota device in their legislation to ensure the presence of women in the na-tional parliaments, and 56 politi-cal parties in 34 countries had established a quota system either for legislative elections (22 par-ties) or for elections to posts in the executive structures of the party (51 parties).

Women may also sometimes sit in Parliament as a result of a sys-tem of reserved seats, filled by means of a separate election, al-though this is '...a very uncom-mon mechanism.'3 Bangladesh, for example, reserves 30 seats in its parliament of 300 members for women and the United Republic of Tanzania has 15 of 244 seats reserved for women. The phe-nomenon of appointment to Par-liament is fairly widespread and

2. Some ideas which emerged from the Women Power and Politics Conference, Adelaide, October 1994.

3 . Chapter 5 of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, Women and Political Power: Survey carried out among the 150 Na-tional Parliaments ..., 1992 details these measures


has accounted for the appoint-ment to Parliament of women in

countries such as Dominica, Saint Lucia and Uganda.

In Australia, it is widely under-stood that the root of the problem of gender imbalance in political life lies with the major political parties. While political philoso-phies and ideologies obviously differ, parties generally view gen-der imbalance as a serious and electorally damaging issue, and the larger parties are developing strategies to address it.4 T h e Australian Labor Party is com-mitted to having women candi-dates in 35 per cent of its 'winna-ble' seats by 2002. The Liberal Party

4. Note that the Democrats and Greens have had at least equal representation of women in Federal Parliament. The Na-tional Party at present has no women in either House.


How to increase the representation and effectiveness of women in parliament 2 Proportional voting systems or multi-member electorates In Norway and other countries multi-member electorates have resulted in higher numbers of women than in countries with different electoral systems.

Increase women members of political parties; increase number of women candidates preparing and presenting for party office and pre-selection; and reform of pre-selection processes Equal numbers of women on selection panels, and an equal share of safe seats, together with more woman candidates so that lone women candidates do not stand against numbers of male candidates.

Reform of parliamentary procedures and sitting hours The lack of creches in parliaments, family un-friendly sitting hours and patterns and the 'masculine', confrontationist or antagonistic style of parliamentary debate can be disincen-tives to women.

Supporting organisations Organisations such as WEL in Australia and the 300 Group in the UK or an 'Emily's List' (e.g. US, UK) which provides financial support.

Support by women in parliament for each other Keeping the debate on the issues rather than on personalities increases respect and does not invite denigration of women.

Within Parliament, the need for a 'critical mass' of women Parliamentarians from Scandanavian countries suggest that a 'critical mass' of women in Parliament is about one third of the total. At this stage it becomes easier for women to be pre-selected and elected and to influence the parliamentary agenda.

Use of the Protocol to CEDAW to make the case of discrimination against women in parliamentary representation New Zealand women plan to appeal to the United Nations over the lack of equity of rep-resentation in the New Zealand Parliament.

has established a national Liberal Women's Candidates Forum to

attract female candidates for Par-liament: strategies focus on the provision of training, support and community education to encour-age women candidates and poten-tial candidates.

Consie Larmour Social Policy Group Parliamentary Research Service

Phone: 06 277 2410 Fax: 06 277 2407

Views expressed in this Research Note are those of the author and do not nec-essarily reflect those of the Parliamen-tary Research Service and are not to be attributed to the Department of the Parliamentary Library. Research Notes provide concise analytical briefings on issues of interest to Senators and Mem-bers. As such they may not canvass all of the key issues.

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