Where are all the women in parliament?

It's 100 years since women gained the right to vote in Britain. And yet they are still massively underrepresented in parliaments around the world.

by Kate Bassett
Last Updated: 01 Feb 2018

Next week marks the centenary of voting rights for women. On 6 February 1918, the Representation of the People Act was passed, allowing women over the age of 30 (who met a property qualification) to vote for the first time. And that paved for the way for universal suffrage 10 years later.

But, as the pay gap furore has proved, we're still nowhere near gender equality. That's going to take yet another 100 years, according to the World Economic Forum.

Even though women have been allowed a political voice in the UK, they are still grossly underrepresented in government around the world. Fewer than 10% of the UN member states have female leaders.

A recent graphic reveals which members of the G20 have the highest proportion of women in their parliaments. Here's what we found:


Mexico takes the lead for gender equality in parliament, where 42% of the total seats are held by women - the highest of the G20 countries. Mexico has a history of encouraging the participation of women in politics and has impressive rates of participation in the federal Congress. The law now requires gender parity within their parliament.

The UK

The UK is currently divided by a pay gap, so much so that the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has generated a report analysing why the national gender pay gap, currently 18.4% for all employees and 9.1% for full time employees, persists. The UK comes in at 5th place, with women holding 32% of seats in parliament. In 2017 more than 200 women were elected - this was a record high for the country.

The US

Across the pond, the US lags behind in 13th place. In the US, women hold just over 19% of the 433 seats in the House of Representatives. Women’s representation in Congress has gone up over the past century, but the pace of change has been slow, especially compared with other G20 members. Hillary Clinton would have made history if she had won the presidency in 2016 as she would have become the first female president of the United States.

There is such a demand for more female roles in US politics and an ongoing battle for change that it is rumoured that Michelle Obama may take a step in her husband’s shoes and run for presidency. Oprah Winfrey might take a shot at it, too


Japanese politics is indeed a man's world. Women hold the fewest seats in parliament here when compared to the rest of the G20 members. Just 9% of the 475 available seats in Japanese parliament are held by female politicians. A bill aimed at dealing with the low representation of women in Japanese politics is set to address the Diet this year which will ask political parties to 'make efforts' to field men and women in equal numbers. 


China is home to the largest legislature in the world. With 2,924 seats up for grabs, fewer than a quarter (24.2%) of these belong to women. In Chinese politics, the BBC notes that women are less represented the higher up the political tree you climb. After the last Congress in 2012, only 33 women sat on the Central Committee which elects the powerful Politburo, which equates to 9%. There are 25 members of that Politburo and only two of these are women, equal to 8%.

Outside of the G20...

Outside of the G20, there are two countries in the world that have more than 50% of their parliament seats held by women; Rwanda and Bolivia.

How does your country compare?



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