South Africa ranks highly on a new list compiled by the Inter-Parliamentary Union and UN Women, which shows the number of women parliamentarians at a record 21.8% globally.
The Women in Politics Map 2014 ranked countries according to the percentage of women in ministerial positions, reflecting appointments up to 1 January 2014.
It lists South Africa in 26th position with women making up 37% of a total of 35 ministers. Nicaragua leads the way with 57% out of a total 14 ministers, followed by Sweden (56.5% – 23 total) and Finland (50% – 18 total).
The full list can be found on the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s site.
Interestingly, South Africa scored even higher when ranking women in the lower house or single house of parliament.
Rwanda tops that list with 63.8%, followed by Andorra with 50%, then Cuba (48.9%), Sweden (45%), and South Africa (44.8%).
The report said that women could achieve equal representation with men in the world’s parliaments in less than 20 years if the current rate of progress is maintained, but they’ve stalled in getting the top jobs of president or prime minister.
IPU Secretary-General Anders Johnsson said 10 years ago he was predicting that even his children would never see gender parity in parliaments because progress was so slow. But if the 1.5 percent rate can be sustained “we would reach gender equality, gender parity, in parliaments globally less than 20 years from now,” he said.
There has also been an increase in the number of women ministers – from 14.3% in 2005 to 17.2% today – and their portfolios have expanded from the tradition areas of health, children and women’s issues, he said.
The number of women leading defense ministries has doubled from seven to 14 since 2012, the highest ever, and the number of women in charge of foreign affairs and international cooperation has risen to 45, the highest number since 2008, he said.
In sharp contrast, Johnsson said that since 2012 the number of women heads of state and government has decreased slightly from 19 to 18, and “we seem to have hit a glass ceiling.”
“More women are now in politics and influencing the political agenda at higher levels … but not at the highest level,” he said.
The number got a boost Tuesday when Michelle Bachelet, the former head of UN Women, was inaugurated again as Chile’s president for a second time.
John Hendra, deputy executive director of UN Women, said women must still overcome many barriers to achieve political success including gender bias and discrimination, cultural attitudes that see women as less capable and able to lead, raising sufficient campaign funds, inadequate support from political parties, tackling corruption and vote buying.
He said one of the most effective strategies to increase the number of women in parliaments is the temporary use of “special measures” such as quotas, reserved seats and voluntary political party commitments to women’s representation.
Johnsson said 80% of the countries that have made the strongest progress have used these measures.
In 2013, he said, the Arab region “progressed the fastest, and it did that both because of political will in some countries and because of political push from the people in those countries.”
Saudi Arabia went from not having a single woman member of parliament to having 20 percent female representation after the king announced that quota and made the appointments, Johnsson said.
Jordan also introduced a quota and women did better than the quota called for in elections, he said, while Tunisia decided to enshrine in its constitution that all decision-making representative bodies should have equal representation from men and women.
Johnnson said Asia and the Pacific have generally low representation and the IPU and UN Women will be working to raise the levels and promoting the use of quotas or similar measures.
At the bottom of the rankings are Micronesia, Palau, Qatar and Vanuatu without a single woman parliamentarian and 13 countries with less than 5% female representation – Yemen, Oman, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Marshall Islands, Comoros, Lebanon, Iran, Belize, Tonga, Samoa, Haiti and Kuwait.
The United States was tied with San Marino in 83rd place with 18.3 percent women in the House of Representatives, below the global average.