Data Brief: Electoral Structures: Systems for Parity?
The Women in Public Service Project is pursuing the goal of 50x50: 50% representation of women in policy and political leadership by 2050. This ambitious vision is only achievable through data-driven solutions and partnerships to understand the reality of women’s leadership in government and to advocate for meaningful change. Explore the numbers at data.50x50movement.org.
Electoral Systems by Country
Over the course of little more than a century, tremendous progress has been made in the fight for gender equality in political participation and decision-making positions. Women gained rights to vote (New Zealand, 1893), appeared in a national legislature (Finland, 1907) and exceeded 50 percent of representation in the parliament (Rwanda, 2008). In recent decades, researchers have looked into factors driving - or hindering - gender parity across countries. In particular, studies have found electoral systems to be among the strongest predictors of women’s electoral success.
The electoral voting systems can be broadly grouped into four categories:
- Majoritarian - Plurality: one member of parliament is to be elected per constituency. This includes methods such as first-past-the-post, two round systems, and alternative vote, and is the most commonly implemented electoral structure.
- Proportional Representation (PR): several members of parliament are to be elected per constituency. The two most widely used methods are party list PR and single transferable vote.
- Mixed System (also known as a Hybrid Voting System): multi-winner electoral system which combines principles of PR and plurality voting.
- The “other” category includes countries in transition and countries with no direct elections.
Among the countries with the highest percentage of women in lower or single house, six out of ten have proportional representation systems. The current data from the Inter-Parliamentary Union is consistent with existing research that demonstrates a positive relationship between proportional representation systems and women’s representation.
However, the proportional representation system itself does not deliver women’s representation. Overall, proportional representation system might offer political parties more opportunities and flexibility in adopting gender equality strategies during the election process.
Other factors should also be taken into consideration given country’s electoral system and its overall political structure. Cuba holds fewer women in actual power given the limited political influence of its parliament. Countries like Rwanda and Belgium have implemented constitutional gender quota systems for more than a decade.
Ensuring women’s participation and success in electoral politics is a vital indicator of achieving the goal of gender parity by 2050. Fair representation in voting systems enables informed decisions to be made that monitor and accelerate the progress. Yet, the electoral system is not the sole determinant of women’s public representation. To fully examine factors driving women’s leadership, it is of great importance to strengthen relevant data collection and provide evidence-based evaluation on women’s leadership in public service.