is growing recognition of the untapped capacity and talents of women and
women’s leadership. Over the last two decades, the rate of women’s
representation in national parliaments globally has incrementally increased
from 11.8 percent in 1998 to 17.8 percent in 2008 to 23.5 percent in 2018. Some
regions have seen particularly dramatic increases, such as Sub-Saharan Africa,
where in the last 20 years the number of women in parliaments has risen from 11
to 23.6 percent, and the Arab States region, which has seen an increase from
3.1 to 17.5 percent. Total global representation is still well below the 30
percent benchmark often identified as the necessary level of representation to
achieve a “critical mass” – a considerable minority of all legislators with
significant impact, rather than a token few individuals – not to mention
falling short of women’s representation as half of the world’s population.
The full and equitable participation of women in public life is essential to building and sustaining strong, vibrant democracies.
Accordingly, the meaningful participation of women in national, local, and community leadership roles has become an important focus on global development policy. Still, some may ask why it matters if women become political leaders, elected policymakers, or civil society activists. Why does the world need more women involved in all aspects of the political process? Women’s political participation results in tangible gains for democracy, including greater responsiveness to citizen needs, increased cooperation across party and ethnic lines, and a more sustainable future.
Women’s participation in politics helps advance gender equality and affects both the range of policy issues that get considered and the types of solutions that are proposed. Research indicates that whether a legislator is male or female has a distinct impact on their policy priorities. There is also strong evidence that as more women are elected to office, there is a corollary increase in policy making that emphasizes quality of life and reflects the priorities of families, women, and ethnic and racial minorities.
In the words of the National Democratic Institute’s (NDI) Chairman Madeleine Albright, women in power “can be counted on to raise issues that others overlook, to support ideas that others oppose, and to seek an end to abuses that others accept.”
A Guest Editorial