Concept and Definition

Women’s political participation entails promoting women’s engagement in political activities and the conduct of public affairs and creating the possibility for women to assemble, express their opinions and receive information freely. Furthermore, an equal possibility to vote in elections and referendums as well as having the option to run for office for a public body and taking part in the formulation and implementation of government policy are essential elements of political participation.1

In Goal 5 (SDG 5) of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (2015), the international community has made a commitment to the objective of adopting and strengthening sound policies and enforceable legislation to achieve gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls at all levels and ensure women's full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life.2

In the last 20 years (1995 -2015) the number of women in parliament has almost doubled, however, women still account for less than 1/4 of all members of parliament.3

Number of women in parliament

in 20004: 13,8%

in 20155: 22,1%


“Having a voice means having the capacity to speak up and be heard and being present to shape and share in discussions, discourse, and decisions. Full and equal participation requires that everyone has a voice. Participation in decision making enables women to voice their needs and challenge gender norms in their community—individually and collectively.”6

Number of women in parliament by region (in %) 10

Number of female heads of government (i.e. Prime ministers) (vs. male)

Only 14 out of 193 heads of government are women.7

Only 17% of all ministerial positions worldwide are held by women.8

Most female ministers hold “weak” portfolios such as Social Affairs, Family and Children, Environment or Women Affairs.9

Barriers to equal participation

Barriers to equal participation and leadership11

  • Gaps in the adoption and implementation of enabling legal and policy frameworks.
  • Unfavorable cultural practices and social norms (e.g.: gender norms, patriarchal structures, socio-cultural and religious values).
  • Time poverty due to multiple burdens and unpaid care work.
  • Barriers to enter and rise within formal political institutions.
  • Lack of financial resources to run for political office.
  • Lower level of education than men.
  • Discriminatory organizational cultures.
  • Weak gender mainstreaming within organizations.

Women’s quotas increase women’s participation in political life and thus strengthen their voice.

  • More than half of all countries worldwide have implemented some form of quota for promoting women’s political participation.12
  • Rwanda introduced a mandatory minimum 30% women’s quota in all decisions-making bodies in 2003. Before the introduction of the quota women never held more than 18% of seats in parliament13, today, 64% of parliamentarians are women, the highest number worldwide.14
  • In Kyrgyzstan there were no women in parliament after the 2005 election. For the election in 2007 a quota system was introduced.14 Today, 23% of parliamentarians are women.16

Access to justice and legal empowerment

Legal empowerment refers to the ability of women to access and use legal and administrative processes and structures to advance their rights and interests and to access resources, services and opportunities.17

Many countries are characterized by legal pluralism signifying the coexistence of multiple legal systems, e.g. customary law and constitutional law within their territory or population(s). This means that traditional or religious law is applied in certain matters or for certain groups while national laws govern other domains of society. Often customary or religious law contains provisions that are discriminatory against women and girls particularly in questions of marriage, inheritance and custody. As such, the existence of plural legal systems based on cultural or religious identity can pose particular challenges and barriers to women seeking justice.18

Women’s representation in the justice system19

9% of police force are women
27% of judges are women

In 14 out of 143 countries a woman's testimony does NOT carry the same evidentiary weight in court as a man’s.20

  1. Based on UN A/Res/66/130: “Women and political participation”. and BMZ: “Förderung politischer Teilhabe”.
  2. UN General Assembly A/RES/70/1 (2015): “Transforming our world: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”.
  3. UN Women (2015): “Facts and Figures: Leadership and Political Participation”.
  4. IPU (2000):
  5. IPU (2015):
  6. World Bank (2014): „Voice and Agency : Empowering Women and Girls for Shared Prosperity”: p. 151.
  7. IPU (2015): “Women in Politics 2015 map”.
  8. UN Women (2015): “Facts and Figures: Leadership and Political Participation”.
  9. IPU (2015): “Women in Politics 2015 map”.
  10. IPU (2015): “Women in National Parliaments”.
  11. UNDP (2014): “Gender equality in public administration”. and UN (2005): “Women and elections”. and World Bank (2014): “Voice and Agency. Empowering Women and Girls for Shared Prosperity”. p. 151.
  12. Quota Project: “Database“.,7,66,10,12,8,15,14,20,21,29,18,34,30,22,25,46,37,57,45,47,48,39,54,98,59,60,43,63,62,65,222,67,69,209,88,71,73,53,79,61,81,89,91,86,94,99,97,100,109,105,101,107,102,103,110,113,126,115,122,116,128,133,132,137,134,135,144,156,145,153,151,154,157,140,147,141,138,159,160,166,164,169,162,165,178,183,173,186,174,177,179,184,41,189,192,242,193,205,190,203,202,200,194,206,246,253,72,131,196,211,197,42,227,216,215,224,220,223,229,77,232,233,240,236,248&types=nofilter&sources=nofilter&filterLevels=lower&displayLevels=lower&fields=AI,multi-quota_type,multi-constitution_q_details,multi-electoral_q_details,multi-pfl_q_details,AC&
  13. IPU (1995): “Women in Parliaments 1945–1995: A World Statistical Survey”. p. 214.
  14. IPU (2015):
  15. Quota Project (2014):
  16. IPU (2015):
  17. Definition based on: A/64/133 (2009): “Legal empowerment of the poor and eradication of poverty. Report of the Secretary General”. and Asian Development Bank (2009): “Legal Empowerment for Women and Disadvantaged Groups”.
  18. Un Women (2011): “Progress of the World’s Women 2011-2012. In Pursuit of Justice”. p. 67ff.
  19. UN Women (2011): “Progress of the World’s Women 2011-2012. In Pursuit of Justice”: p. 59.
  20. World Bank (2015): „Women, Business and the Law – Going to Court”.