The number of women represented in parliaments around the world is “worryingly low” after the global average inched forward only half a percentage point in 2011 to 19.5 percent, said a report released on Friday by a global organization of parliaments.
When it came to parliamentary seats up for renewal in 2011 in 69 legislative chambers across 59 countries, women won 21.8 percent of them, a similar proportion to previous years, said the Inter-Parliamentary Union in its “Women in Parliament 2011” study.
“Strong political will and adoption of specific measures is needed to break the deadlock on women's political participation,” the union and U.N. Women, the world body's unit for gender equality, said in a statement.
It said the problem was simple in many countries -- not enough women were running for parliament to have an impact.
“Challenges for women candidates include insufficient funds to run a campaign, high expectations from the electorate and the antagonistic nature of competitive political parties,” the report found.
“In addition, women tend to have fewer resources at their disposal, less experience in running for office and in public speaking, and a lack of support from spouses and family,” it said. “Women also have multiple roles, and balancing them all can very difficult.”
Of 188 countries, the report found 20 had parliaments where women made up at least a third of the representation. Rwanda and Andorra led the way, being the only two countries with more than 50 percent.
At the other end of the scale, there were seven countries with no female representation: Belize, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the Solomon Islands.
Despite what the report described as the promise of the Arab Spring pro-democracy protests that toppled leaders in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, it found the Arab region remained the only one in the world without a parliament composed of at least 30 percent women.
“While the movements were a testament to the strong will of the people in affirming their democratic rights, over the course of the year it transpired that women would have a longer struggle ahead in seeking equal participation in the political arena,” the report noted.
Women made up 10.7 percent of parliamentarians in Arab states in 2011, unchanged from previous year, but the report said it was encouraged by a number of countries in the region introducing quotas in a bid to improve women's representation.
The five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council ranked in the middle of the pack. Russia has 13.6 percent female representation, the United States 16.8 percent, France 18.9 percent, China 21.3 percent and Britain 22.3 percent.
Despite the minor changes globally in women’s representation in parliament, the report hailed it as progress.
“Women not only entered parliaments in increasing numbers, but stronger efforts were made to ensure that they took their rightful place within these democratic institutions,” it said.