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3.3 Proportion of seats held by women in national parliament

Modified on 2012/03/05 16:04 by MDG Wiki Handbook Categorized as Goal 3


Goal 3. Promote gender equality and empower women
Target 3.A: Eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education, preferably by 2005, and in all levels of education no later than 2015


The proportion of seats held by women in national parliaments is the number of seats held by women members in single or lower chambers of national parliaments, expressed as a percentage of all occupied seats.

Seats refer to the number of parliamentary mandates, also known as the number of members of parliament. Seats are usually won by members in general parliamentary elections. Seats may also be filled by nomination, appointment, indirect election, rotation of members and by-election.

Method of computation
The indicator is calculated as the total number of seats occupied by women divided by the total number of seats occupied in parliament and multiplied by 100.


The indicator measures the degree to which women have equal access to parliamentary decision making. Women’s participation in parliaments is a key aspect of women’s opportunities in political and public life, and is therefore linked to women’s empowerment. Equal numbers of women and men in lower chambers would give an indicator value of 50 per cent.

A stronger presence of women in parliament allows new concerns to be highlighted on political agendas, and new priorities to be put into practice through the adoption and implementation of policies and laws. The inclusion of the perspectives and interests of women is a prerequisite for democracy and gender equality, and contributes to good governance. A representative parliament also allows the different experiences of men and women to affect the social, political and economic future of societies.

Changes in the indicator have been tracked over time. Although the international community has supported and promoted women’s participation in political decision-making structures for several decades, improvement in women’s access to parliament has been slow. This has led to the introduction of special policy measures to increase women’s shares of parliamentary seats in several countries. Those countries that have adopted special measures generally have greater representation of women in parliament than countries without special measures.


Data for calculating this indicator are available in administrative records of national parliaments and electoral management bodies.

The information is available in all countries where a national legislature exists and therefore does not include parliaments that have been dissolved or suspended for an indefinite period.


The indicator can be disaggregated for analysis by geographical region and sub-region, legislature type (single or lower, parliamentary or presidential), the method of filling seats (directly elected, indirectly elected, appointed) and the use of special measures.


There can be difficulties in obtaining information on by-election results and replacements due to death or resignation. These changes are ad hoc events, which are more difficult to track. This indicator also excludes the numbers and percentages of women in upper chambers of parliament.

Parliaments can vary in their capacity to engage in law making, oversight of government and representation of the electorate. In terms of measuring women’s political decision-making power, this indicator may be limited because many women still face obstacles in fully and efficiently carrying out their parliamentary mandate. Different constraints may come into play: women parliamentarians may find that they do not have the support of their peers or that the gender-based policies they advocate are at odds with the policies of the political parties they represent.

Numbers do matter however, and women’s increased presence in parliament does, at a minimum, facilitate the articulation of women’s concerns and alter the gender dynamics in parliament. The role of women parliamentarians needs to be considered alongside the role of other government actors such as the executive; and in relation to the national gender machinery and women’s groups in civil society.


The involvement of women in setting political priorities delivers a stronger and more representative democracy and results in better outcomes for citizens. While parliaments vary in terms of the number of women members, it is apparent that the efforts of women have resulted in more gender policies that are of benefit to them and the communities in which they are based. Women parliamentarians are likely the most ardent promoters and defenders of women and have redefined political priorities to include gender equality issues. But this role does not fall exclusively on women and there is a need to better understand how to forge a partnership between men and women and how men can further support gender equality issues.


Data for global and regional monitoring for this indicator are reported by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) secretariat.

After each general election or renewal, a questionnaire is dispatched from the IPU to parliaments to solicit the latest available data. If no response is provided, other methods are used to obtain the information, such as from the electoral management body, parliamentary web sites or Internet searches. Additional information gathered from other sources is regularly crosschecked with parliament.

Regional and global averages are calculated by dividing the total number of women members by the total number of seats filled in single or lower chambers in each region or in all national parliaments.

For international comparisons, this indicator is calculated considering only the single chamber in unicameral parliaments or the lower chamber in bicameral parliaments. It does not cover the upper chamber of bicameral parliaments, although this information is available on the IPU website at http://www.ipu.org/wmn-e/classif.htm.




Inter-parliamentary Union. Women in National Parliaments. Geneva. Internet site http://www.ipu.org/wmn-e/world.htm.

Inter-parliamentary Union (2008). Equality in Politics: A Survey of Women and Men in Parliaments. Geneva. Available from http://www.ipu.org/english/surveys.htm#equality08.

Inter-parliamentary Union (2010). Is Parliament Open to Women? Available from http://www.ipu.org/PDF/publications/wmn09-e.pdf

Inter-parliamentary Union (2011). Gender-Sensitive Parliaments. A Global Review of Good Practice. Available from http://www.ipu.org/pdf/publications/gsp11-e.pdf

United Nations Development Fund For Women (2009). Progress of the World’s Women 2008/2009. New York. Available from http://www.unifem.org/progress/2008. UN-Women (2011). Progress of the World’s Women 2011-2012. New York. Available from http://progress.unwomen.org/pdfs/EN-Report-Progress.pdf

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