Twenty-five years after Beijing Declaration, the world “cannot afford” so few women in power

[Geneva, Switzerland and New York City, USA]—Women’s representation in political decision-making continues to increase but at a dragging pace, with three-quarters of parliamentary seats still held by men, according to new data presented in the 2020 edition of the IPU‑UN Women map of Women in Politics. The data’s publication coincides with the 25-year review of the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action, which remains the world’s most comprehensive agenda for gender equality.

The IPU-UN Women map presents global rankings for women in executive, government and parliamentary positions as of 1 January 2020. It shows all-time highs for the number of countries with women Heads of State and/or Heads of Government, and for the global share of women ministers, parliamentary speakers and parliamentarians. Still, 25 years after the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which set the international target for reaching gender balance in political decision-making, women are underrepresented across all levels of power.

UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka said: “We have created a world where women are squeezed into just 25 per cent of the space—in parliaments and in other critical decision-making spaces. Yet we know that more women in high-level political decision-making positions leads to policies that benefit the whole of society. Women and girls are radically impatient for change and we are calling on leaders and parliamentarians to take the necessary actions to ensure their voices are heard and their priorities reflected.”

“It is impossible to predict when women will have equal opportunities in politics as we cannot see a clear trend,” IPU President Gabriela Cuevas stated. “But what is absolutely clear is that current efforts are not enough, and some countries are actually going backwards. We cannot afford to wait…It is time to translate words into actions and to start demanding commitments and legal changes. We must engage with the 46,000 members of parliament in the world to eradicate all discriminatory legislation to ensure that women can enter politics.”

Women Heads of State and Government

Fewer than one-tenth of countries are led by a woman today. Twenty countries now have women Heads of State and Government—up from 19 countries in 2019. As of 1 January 2020, 6.6 per cent of elected Heads of State are women (10 out of 152) and 6.2 per cent of Heads of Government (12 out of 193); in two of these countries (Bolivia and Switzerland), the Head of State and Government is the same.

While progress in women’s representation among world leaders continues to lag, by comparison, only eight women leaders were in power when the IPU and UN Women launched one of the first editions of the Map in 2005.

Today, more than half of women Heads of State and Government are in Europe. Nearly all governments in the Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway) are headed by a woman, with Sweden being the exception.

Three women Heads of State or Government are serving in the Americas, which is half the number that were serving in 2015. The region experienced a significant decline in the number of women Heads of State or Government between 2015, when there were six, and 2017 when the number dropped sharply to one.

Three women are serving as Heads of State or Government in Asia (Bangladesh, Nepal, Singapore), one in Africa (Ethiopia) and one in the Pacific (New Zealand).

No countries in the Arab States region have had a woman Head of State or Government.

Women in Government

There has been an encouraging trend of more governments with gender balanced cabinets: women now account for 50 per cent or more ministerial positions in 14 countries, up from nine in 2019. An additional 16 countries have more than 40 per cent women ministers.

Europe and the Americas are the leaders when it comes to having gender parity in cabinets. In two countries, women hold over 60 per cent of ministerial seats (Spain and Finland). Finland stands out as the only country to have both gender parity in cabinet and a woman Head of Government.

The 14 countries with 50 per cent or more women in cabinet:

    • 66.7%: Spain
    • 61.1%: Finland
    • 58.8%: Nicaragua
    • 57.9%: Colombia
    • 57.1%: Austria
    • 55.0%: Peru
    • 54.5%: Sweden
    • 53.6%: Rwanda
    • 53.3%: Albania
    • 52.9%: France
    • 50.0%: Andorra, Canada, Costa Rica, Guinea-Bissau

Overall, the proportion of women ministers is at an all-time high at 21.3 per cent (851 out of 4003), which is 7.1 percentage points higher than in 2005 when only 14.2 per cent of ministers were women.

In the 190 countries for which data is available, men continue to dominate certain ministerial portfolios. For example, there are only 25 finance / budget portfolios and 22 defense portfolios led by women ministers.

Conversely, despite some shifts in recent years, women ministers are still most likely to oversee family and social affairs, followed closely by environment and energy portfolios.

Top 5 portfolios held by women:

    1. Family / children / youth / elderly / disabled
    2. Social affairs
    3. Environment / natural resources / energy
    4. Employment / labour / vocational training
    5. Women affairs / gender equality

For the first time since 2015, the number of countries without women’s representation in executive cabinets has dropped into single digits, with nine countries remaining without women ministers (Brunei Darussalam, Kiribati, Papua New Guinea, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Tuvalu, Vanuatu and Vietnam).

Women Speakers of Parliament

Women now serve as parliamentary speakers in all regions of the world. Only the Pacific does not currently have a woman presiding officer of parliament.

The share of women parliamentary speakers overall is 20.5 per cent in 2020 (57 out of 278 presiding officer posts across 192 countries). This is double the number of women speakers 25 years ago when the United Nations Beijing conference launched its ground-breaking action plan for gender equality.

However, the share of women deputy speakers decreased by 3 percentage points to 25.3 per cent compared to 2019.

In 2019, seven countries appointed women speakers of parliament for the first time (Andorra, Belarus, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Malawi and Togo).