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Politics and governance

Modified on 2015/05/22 14:27 by Sean Zheng Paths: Read in Order Categorized as Chapter 2 - Power and decision-making
Table II.18

From gender issues to gender statistics on power and decision-making in politics and governance: illustrative examples


Policy-relevant questions Data needed Sources of data
Are women underrepresented in parliament? Members of national parliaments by chamber and sex. Administrative records.
Do women have the same chances of being elected as men? Candidates in elections by sex.
Elected candidates by sex.
Administrative records.
Are women appointed ministers and subministers as often as men? Are some types of ministry more likely than others to have women as minister or subministers? Ministerial and subministerial positions by portfolio and sex. Administrative records.
Are women elected mayors as often as men? Mayors by sex. Administrative records.

  • + Gender issues
    • Women’s participation in political decision-making as full and equal partners with men has not yet been achieved. Although women make up about half the electorate and have attained the right to vote and hold office in almost all countries of the world, they continue to be underrepresented as members of national parliaments (United Nations, 2010; Inter-Parliamentary Union, 2011). The representation of women has steadily improved worldwide, but progress has been slow (United Nations, 2010; Inter-Parliamentary Union, 2011).

      Women’s limited representation in parliaments is directly correlated with the low representation of women in political parties, especially in the higher echelons, and the low proportion of women among electoral candidates. Parties play an important role in preparing and selecting candidates for election and supporting them in positions of leadership and governance. However, even when women are included among the candidates for election, their likelihood of being elected tends to be lower than that of men (United Nations, 2010). The situation varies across countries. While in most countries the success rate of female candidates is much lower than that of male candidates or even zero (i.e., in extreme cases where no female candidates are successfully elected), in a small number of countries, mostly located in Africa, female candidates have similar election rates to male candidates or even higher rates (United Nations, 2010).

      The use of gender quotas is one of the mechanisms that are used to offset the obstacles that women face in the electoral process and to increase women’s access to political decision-making. The type of quota used will depend on the electoral system and may refer to (a) reserved seats for women in a legislative assembly; (b) legislated reserved places for female candidates on electoral lists; or (c) a voluntary political party quota. In many countries, electoral gender quotas proved to be an effective measure of improving gender balance in parliament (Ballington and Karam, 2005).

      Women continue to be underrepresented in decision-making positions in Government cabinets in all regions of the world, although significant improvements have been recorded (United Nations, 2010). Progress, however, has bypassed some countries. There are countries with no female ministers. At the subminister level, although women are still underrepresented, they generally hold a greater proportion of posts than at the minister level. Women’s representation in leadership positions, whether at the ministerial or subministerial level, is generally higher in social ministries (such as family, youth, gender equality and education) than in economic and political ministries (such as parliamentary affairs and defence) (Inter-Parliamentary Union and United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, 2012).

      Similar to the situation in national parliaments, local governments in all regions of the world are far from achieving gender balance within decision-making positions. The share of women mayors is low and the share of women councillors even lower (United Nations, 2010). A number of countries have applied constitutional or legislative gender quotas to hasten progress towards more equitable representation at the local level of government. This has played a part in achieving a higher participation of women in those local councils.

      Having women in elected and decision-making positions is not the only way to promote gender-sensitive policies and legislation. Indeed, political participation requires that women actually participate in the electoral process. Elected positions are dependent on votes, which can radically alter the make-up of elected chambers. Two issues are crucial to votes as indicators of women’s involvement in the decision-making process. First, there is the question of voter registration. Women’s suffrage has been a slow process, with some countries only very recently allowing women to vote. This historical injustice, combined with widespread unequal access to services and lack of information, means that female voter registration tends to be lower than that of men. Second, how many women actually exercise the right to vote is of central importance in understanding women’s role in decision-making. Electoral results can vary greatly according to female voter turnout, given than women are more likely to support female candidates and those with political platforms that will benefit the lives of women.

  • + Data needed
    • Data needed to analyse gender differences in political participation and in positions of power and decision-making in politics and governance are:

      (a) Registered voters by sex;

      (b) Voter turnout by sex;

      (c) Members in national parliaments by parliament chamber and sex;

      (d) Candidates in elections by sex;

      (e) Elected candidates by sex;

      (f) Additional qualitative information on the representation of women in parliament may refer to (i) reserved seats for women in a legislative assembly; (ii) legislated reserved places for female candidates on electoral lists; or (iii) a voluntary political party quota;

      (g) Members of governing bodies of political parties and senior posts by sex;

      (h) Ministerial positions by sex and type of ministry;

      (i) Subministerial positions by sex and type of ministry;

      (j) Mayors by sex and size of city/municipality;

      (k) Councillors in local government by sex;

      (l) Legislators by sex.


  • + Sources of data
    • Administrative records can be used as a source of data on women and men in positions of power and decision-making in politics and governance, at the national or local levels, covering members of parliament, candidates in elections, ministerial and subministerial positions, and mayors and councillors.

      Electoral management bodies are useful in providing data on voter registration and turnout.

      Population censuses can provide data on legislators when a detailed classification of occupations is used during data collection.

  • + Conceptual and measurement issues
    • While data on the participation of women in decision-making at the national level are readily available from administrative records, knowledge about the situation of women at the local level is made more difficult by the lack of sex-disaggregated data.

      Furthermore, national statistical offices in many countries do not routinely produce data on positions of power and decision-making in politics and governance based on administrative records. More often, they are able to collect data on legislators in population censuses when a detailed classification of occupations is used. Legislators can be distinguished from other occupations at the three-digit ISCO level. However, for the purpose of analysing the representation of women and men in positions of power and decision-making, the ISCO category of legislators is relatively heterogeneous, including as it does various occupations, such as minister, senator, government/legislative secretary and president of the government.

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