By Claire Zillman
March 7, 2017

The past year has been marked by considerable setbacks for women in politics. Brazil’s first-ever female president Dilma Rousseff was impeached amid a bribery scandal and now South Korea’s first female president Park Geun-hye is embroiled in her own corruption probe. And of course, the United States missed out on the chance to elect its first female leader, while American women failed to gain ground in Congress. Elections in Australia, meanwhile, ushered in an overall drop in women’s representation in parliament.

Discouraged yet? Don’t be. The Inter-Parliamentary Union has released a new paper ahead of International Women’s Day tomorrow that shows it’s not all bad news.

Worldwide, the average share of women in parliament last year rose from 22.6% to 23.3%—6.5 points higher than the global average a decade ago. That heartening figure is bolstered by countries’ individual success stories. The tiny island nation of Palau, for instance, saw the greatest number of women elected to parliament in the last 30 years after two female candidates won seats in the lower house. Ireland saw its share of women in parliament surge from 15.1% to 22.2% after all political parties fielded candidate lists that were between 31% and 35% female. In Morocco, 20.5% of seats belonged to women last year—nearly double the share in 2007. Gender quotas have fueled some of those gains, but such measures are by no means a cure-all. The IPU found that quotas ensure a minimum level of women’s representation but don’t always extend beyond that.

Here’s another bit of good news: the number of female speakers of parliament is at an all-time high—53 in total or 19.1% overall. Women’s presence in those positions is notable since speakers set the tone of debate and work to prioritize a parliament’s agenda. Nine new women speakers were elected or appointed in 2016.

Of the nations that had parliamentary renewals last year, Iceland’s legislature has the highest share of women—47.6%. Had women won two more seats in the October election, they would have been capable of forming a government outright.



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