Women in Parliament Around the World


While there has been much advancement in women’s political rights throughout the last century, there still remains a huge gap between the number of men and women elected to parliament and as heads of state and government.

This article takes a look at some figures regarding the political situation for women in countries across the world.

Most women in parliament/government:

Rwanda percentage of women and men in parliament
Pie chart reflecting gender make-up of Rwanda’s lower house; Credit: Mackenzie Brown

According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), as of December 2017, the East African country of Rwanda is the nation with the highest percentage of female members in its lower house – of the 80 elected seats within the parliament, currently 49 of these (or 61.3% of the total) are held by female representatives.

Belgium percentage of men and women in parliament (upper chamber)
Pie chart reflecting gender make-up of Belgian Senate; Credit: Mackenzie Brown

The country with the highest percentage of female members in its upper chamber is Belgium, where 30 of 60 (or half) of the indirectly elected members of the Senate are female. However, the Senate now plays a very minor role in the country’s federal legislative processes, and only holds around ten plenary sessions each year.

Least women in parliament/government:

Four different countries currently have the fewest female members of parliament according to the IPU data. Yemen (275 seats), Vanuatu (52 seats), Papua New Guinea (106 seats), and the Federated States of Micronesia (14 seats) all have no female elected representatives in the lower houses or single chamber of their parliaments.

Female heads of state and government:

According to data gathered by Women in International politics in March 2017, there are 20 women holding the office of either head of state or head of government around the world. This represents 6.3% of the total number of 315 world leaders – a slight fall from 2016 when there were 22 women occupying such positions. Out of these 20 countries, the UK is unique in having both a female Head of State (The Queen) and a Female Head of Government (Prime Minister Theresa May).

Female heads of state
Pie chart reflecting proportion of female-male Heads of State worldwide; Credit: Mackenzie Brown

When considering Heads of State alone, 13 women worldwide hold the post of the highest representative of their country (7.3% of the world’s 178 Heads of State). Of these, 7 hold office in European countries. Notable female Heads of State from other countries include 2011 Nobel Peace Prize Winner Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who was president of Liberia from 2006-2018, and Hilda Heine (pictured below), who was elected president of the Marshall Islands in 2016 and is the first person from the Islands to be awarded a doctorate degree.

Embed from Getty Images

Of the 137 Heads of Government in office across the world, only 7 of these (5.1% of the total) are women. As with Heads of State, most of these are located in European countries, including Erna Solberg (prime minister of Norway) and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. In Africa, the only female Head of Government is currently Saara Kuugongelwa, the Prime Minster of Namibia, who was elected in 2015 and previously served as the country’s Minister of Finance. In Asia, Sheikh Hasina Wajed (elected in 2009) is currently serving a third term as Prime Minister of Bangladesh, while Aung San Suu Kyi (who was appointed as State Counsellor of Myanmar in 2016), has been accused of complicity in the oppression of the Rohingya in the country’s Rakhine State.

Female heads of government
Pie chart reflecting proportion of female-male Heads of Government worldwide; Credit: Mackenzie Brown

Female suffrage:

While most countries around the world have long granted women the right to vote and participate in democratic processes, there’s one country where major obstacles still remain. In the Vatican City, the only citizens allowed to participate in the election of the Pope (who is Head of State) are Cardinals. Given that women are currently unable to become Cardinals, they are effectively barred from participating in elections, although Pope Francis’ more tolerant views on issues such as gay marriage have generated hope that reform will be made.

Saudi Arabia is the latest country to have legalised female suffrage, through a royal decree issued by King Abdullah prior to municipal elections in 2015.


Deputy Editor 2017-18, International Editor 2015-17. Languages graduate interested in Latin America, world news, media and politics.

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