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Women in political leadership - mixed progress, more rigorous actions needed

March 05, 2014

With women still only constituting 21% of parliamentarians globally, pressure to adopt measures to promote women’s access to political leadership continues to gain momentum.

Throughout 2013, a number of countries across the world took important steps towards redefining their electoral systems to help create a more gender sensitive environment for women seeking political office.

For example, El-Salvador, Haiti, Mexico, Samoa and Zimbabwe all amended electoral laws to provide for mandatory gender quotas for national or local level elections (see for more details). The past year also saw a new high in the number of women elected to the Rwandan parliament compared to July 2008, reaching a world record of 64 % women MPs. In contrast, in Kenya (where the 2010 constitution requires that women form at least 1/3 of the parliament), the March 2013 election resulted in only 19 % of women parliamentarians due to a lack of strict electoral rules forcing political parties to comply.

Legislation mandating gender quotas or gender parity among party candidates is largely the single most straightforward measure to fast track women into elected office, when designed and implemented in sync with electoral systems and accompanying sanctions. To date, 85 countries have adopted such measures as part of their electoral laws, but there is a large degree of variance in their individual practices and outcomes as a result.

While quotas are one key reform measure that countries can take to increase the number of women in politics, other policy measures such as giving political parties incentives to comply with gender quota regulations through the use of financial sanctions (via public funding for parties where available), providing intra-party financial and other support to women candidates in the pre-election and campaign periods, stepping up parties’ internal institutional reforms to eliminate gender based discrimination against women members are all critical means of achieving progress.

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