Women in Parliament: The highest percentage it has ever been, yet still not even close to 50 percent

Dominique Ender


Gender equality is increasingly becoming an important topic for debate. This is partly due to the rise of female related topics discussed on a social and political scale (see: the #metoo movement, breaking the glass ceiling, women’s marches and representation of women in the political landscape). However, these are not necessarily new topics. The idea of gender equality, which began with universal suffrage, was originally discussed in the 19th century, almost two whole centuries ago. Yet in 2020, we still do not have global equality.


Even in so called ‘advanced democracies’ such as Sweden, total equality between a man and woman still does not exist. However, thanks to the widespread usage of social media in the 21st century, women from one part of the world were able to discover what the female experience is on the other. This established a sense of female solidarity that spread throughout the world. Female representation in politics has progressively developed into one of the most discussed discourses in recent years. The realisation that quicker, more advanced change can occur regarding female equality when there are more women in higher positions of power, such as parliamentary seats, became one of the drivers for female solidarity.


World Bank statistics shows that over the past 20 years, the number of females in parliament has been increasing (for the most part) world-wide. This is a great achievement for feminist movements, but if you look at cases individually, it paints a different story. Many women who were elected to their countries’ parliaments, especially in non-democracies or developing countries, were elected to fill gender quotas, or came to power through elite pathways. (Women who rely on elite pathways have dynastic connections and entrenched power created by the family members elected before them) (Choi 2019, 235). This means that the same ideologies that were used by men in politics for decades, will continue to be used even with a woman in power.


Admittedly, there is also the good side to implementing gender quotas since they require some women to be in parliament and this can be seen as a win for feminist movements (unfortunately, for some countries this is correlated to the idea of saving face). Nevertheless, women are coming into power in parliament. There were, after all, 13% more women in parliament in 2019 compared to 1997. And yet, in 2019, the world saw only 24.6% of women in parliament, which is an extremely low number still, with less than a quarter being political representatives (The World Bank). Even Norway, a country with one of the largest percentages and most levelled percentages in the last 20 years, has less than 50%. When discussing the idea of equality, especially for regimes that hold their civil rights to be fair, the aim should always be 50%, yet we still have not seen this even after several centuries of fighting for equality.


We must focus on the positive strides that the world is taking towards female representation and equality, but we must also be aware that the fight for total equality for all women, including all ethnicities, races, and sexual orientations, is not over. Only if this divisive world can work together will there be true and impactful change on a global scale. But is this realistic? Or can total equality only really become a reality for some countries? Only time (and continuous demands for change) will tell if we will be capable of achieving the gender equality dream.


References:

Nankyung Choi (2019) Women’s political pathways in Southeast Asia, International Feminist Journal of Politics, 21:2, 224-248, DOI: 10.1080/14616742.2018.1523683.

World Bank Percentages: https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SG.GEN.PARL.ZS