Geneva — Rwanda still leads the world with the number of women in a lower chamber of parliament, says the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU). Sixty-one percent of members of the country's legislature are women.
But while several African counties have in the past been ranked among the top 10 countries for women's representation, this year Rwanda is the only African nation listed.
The latest IPU statistics have been released for International Women's Day on March 8.
South Africa has the next highest ranking in Africa, at 12th place with women making up 45.8 percent of legislators in the lower house of the parliament, followed by Namibia, at 15th place with 44.2 percent female representation.
The only other African nation in the top 20 is Mozambique, ranked joint 18th with Argentine, having 42.4 percent of female lawmakers.
New countries move up
"The fact that you'll have fewer African countries in the top ten does not mean that they are not doing well. It's simply because other countries have moved up the rankings," said IPU Secretary General, Martin Chungong, citing the fast-moving United Arab Emirates, which is now at 3rd place.
At a United Nations press briefing in Geneva, Chungong noted, "We have seen in 2020 again, confirmation of the fact that quotas, when legislated, well-designed and ambitious, have the potential to drive up women's political and parliamentary representation.
"So, as other countries rise to the top, others are dropping, but it does not mean that they're not doing well when it comes to gender equality," he said. South Africa is among the African countries no longer in the top ten.
Chungong observed that what is happening in Rwanda reflects what is happening across Africa, the third-ranked global region for women's representation.
Following elections in 2020, the global proportion of women in parliament reached a record 25.5 percent, representing an increase of 0.6 points compared with 2019, according to the IPU's Women in Parliament report.
The IPU has tracked women's participation in parliament for decades, allowing it to measure progress and setbacks, and each year it publishes a report to coincide with International Women's Day.
"Although progress has been steady over the past few years, it is still excruciatingly slow," said the IPU. At the current rate, it will take another 50 years before gender parity is achieved in parliaments worldwide.
As of January 1, women accounted for 50 percent or more of members in just three parliaments (Rwanda, Cuba, and the United Arab Emirates).
The president of the IPU Forum of Women Parliamentarians, the Kenyan MP, Susan Kihika, said, "While we note that a quarter of MPs in the world are women, we see how this still falls far short of representing half the world's population. Unleashing the full potential of women who make up that 50 percent should be our number one priority."
The Women in Parliament report shows that the Covid-19 pandemic harmed elections and campaigning in 2020.
National parliamentary elections were postponed in nearly 20 countries, mainly due to Covid-19, but went ahead in 57 countries.