Equality in Politics and Government

Women’s involvement in politics – whether local or national - can help advance legislation that is more focused on women, children and families. When women lack a voice in politics, powerful advocates for children remain unheard.

At the national level women in parliaments have made a real difference for children, despite being underrepresented.

  • In countries as diverse as Argentina, France, Russia and Rwanda, women in parliaments have initiated and helped pass child-related legislation. In Rwanda, for example, women parliamentarians successfully advocated for increased spending on health and education and special support for children with disabilities.
  • The influence of women in parliaments is encouraging changes in the priorities of their male colleagues. Research suggests that male legislators today are increasingly aware of the importance of issues related to women and families.

However, despite progress, women are largely locked out of national politics:

  • As of July 2006, women accounted for just under 17 per cent of all parliamentarians worldwide (around one in six). At current annual rates of progress, gender parity in national legislatures won’t be achieved until 2068.

Women continue to face discrimination at the ballot box: more than 50 per cent of people surveyed in selected countries in East Asia and the Pacific, South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa believe that men make better political leaders than women.

Women also play a key role for children at the local level, in some cases altering the distribution of community resources in favour of women and children. Villages led by women in West Bengal, India, had twice the investment in drinking water, increased visits by health workers and a thirteen per cent decrease in the gender gap in school attendance. Nonetheless, women account for only just over nine per cent of mayors worldwide, and around 21 per cent of local councilors.

Quotas can make a huge and immediate difference to women’s representation. Seventeen of the 20 countries with the highest proportions of women in national politics use some form of quota system. Rwanda, for example, jumped from 24th place in 1995 to first place in 2003 in terms of women’s representation in parliament due to the use of quotas. Similar statistics hold true for countries as diverse as Afghanistan, Argentina, Burundi, Costa Rica, Iraq, Mozambique and South Africa.

While the evidence shows that, on the whole, women parliamentarians are more likely than their male colleagues to effect change in favour of children, women and families, of course not every female parliamentarian will make a positive difference for children. Each legislator or female political leader is an individual who can fall anywhere on a wide spectrum of personality and ideology, and so will not necessarily make a difference.

The reasons one can assume women might act from a different perspective than their male counterparts are practical rather than theoretical. As well as bringing different patterns of socialization and life experience to bear upon their decisions, women are more likely to enter politics from different backgrounds – frequently through social work or from non-governmental organizations.