UN 2015 Women in politics map from Inter-Parliamentary Union

The Inter-Parliamentary Union has been campaigning for equal gender representation for some time.

In September 1997, in Cairo, the IPU Council adopted the Universal Declaration on Democracy and urged Governments and Parliaments throughout the world to be guided by its content.

The opening section of the Declaration, entitled "The Principles of Democracy", states:

"The achievement of democracy presupposes a genuine partnership between men and women in the conduct of the affairs of society in which they work in equality and complementarity, drawing mutual enrichment from their differences."

In April 1992, in Yaoundé, the IPU Council had stated:

"The concept of democracy will only assume true and dynamic significance when political policies and national legislation are decided upon jointly by men and women with equitable regard for the interests and aptitudes of both halves of the population."

When summarising in the New Delhi Declaration the outcome of IPU's Specialised Conference "Towards Partnership Between Men and Women in Politics" (New Delhi, February 1997), the Conference President stated:

"As politics is deeply rooted in society and reflects dominant values, our discussions highlighted clearly that developing a partnership in politics necessarily depends on the degree of partnership as a social mode in general. This is undoubtedly why the Inter-Parliamentary Union asserts that what has to be developed, in modern democratic societies, is nothing less than a new social contract in which men and women work in equality and complementarity, enriching each other mutually from their differences. (...) What is basically at stake is democracy itself."
Dear fellows, today I am focusing on women’s rights and girls’ education because they are suffering the most. There was a time when women social activists asked men to stand up for their rights. But, this time, we will do it by ourselves. I am not telling men to step away from speaking for women’s rights rather I am focusing on women to be independent to fight for themselves.

Dear sisters and brothers, now it’s time to speak up.
— Malala Yousafzai 2013 Speech to the United Nations

The parliaments of Rwanda and Bolivia reportedly have more women than men in parliament and most nations are a long way off achieving equal gender representation.

There is a growing global movement to achieve equal representation for women in representative government. The QuotaProject monitors developments with the following background:

The evidence throughout the world illustrates that there are numerous obstacles to women's political participation. Women's participation and representation in decision making bodies at executive and legislative levels has increased over the past decades, this has been slow and uneven across the world. In national parliaments, the global average of seats held by women is only 22%.
Increasing women's participation and representation in political life requires efforts to address political, economic, social, cultural and religious constraints within both formal and informal public and private spheres. A range of strategies such as quotas have been proposed and implemented to help increase women's representation in positions of power and decision making.
As the debate about the use of quotas as a tool to increase the political participation and representation of women was gaining momentum, in 2003 International IDEA and Stockholm University initiated a research project leading to the collation of comparative knowledge and resources on the implementation and impact of quotas. In 2009, this cooperation expanded to include the Inter-Parliamentary Union.

For example, in the UK the parties have come together in an all-party parliamentary group to consider ways to improve the representation of women in the UK Parliament.

Increased public debate has been spearheaded by the organisation 50:50 Parliament, leading to media references to the emergence of 21st century suffragettes.

In December 2015, a rally outside the UK Parliament to honour Nancy Astor as the first woman to take her seat in the UK Parliament was matched by a cross-party debate on how to improve the representation of women. This is just one example of how the agenda for the next stage of democratisation is being formed.     

The calls for the equal representation of women in parliaments are growing globally and it is inevitable that systematic action will eventually be taken country-by-country to achieve this. The question arises:

When the history of the 21st suffragettes is written in 100 years, will we read that Australia was once again among the leaders, or will it be Australia that had to be dragged to the next stage of democratisation?

Global Gender Gap Report 2015 World Economic Forum

Access the Global Gender Gap Report 2015 and related World Economic Forum resources here.

The country score card for Australia (overall rank of 36 out of 145) shows the weakest performance in the area of politics. 

No country in the world can yet say they have achieved gender equality.
— Emma Watson (UN Women Goodwill Ambassador) 2014 UN launch of Heforshe