UNITED NATIONS - Nearly 17 % of the world’s parliamentarians are women, an all-time high but a long way from equal representation of the sexes in legislative chambers, the Inter-Parliamentary Union said.
Anders Johnsson, secretary-general of the world organization of parliaments, said discrimination and stereotyping of women are responsible for their continuing low representation in national law-making bodies.
What is essential to achieve real change “is a change of the mindset of people - men and women,” he told a news conference Thursday launching the IPU’s latest survey of women in parliament. “That, as we know, takes a very long time.”
Based on the latest statistics -- which showed the increase in the percentage of women lawmakers slowing from 2005 to 2006 _ the world will wait “until 2077 to celebrate” equality in parliaments, Johnsson said.
“It is quite far from a satisfactory picture that we have, and even further from the objective of parity that we would like to achieve,” said Margaret Mensah-Williams, a parliamentarian from Namibia who is vice-president of the IPU executive committee.
Not one of the 189 countries in the survey has achieved the 50 percent mark for women in parliament but several have come close.
In the ranking of women in the lower or single house of parliament, Rwanda remained in first place with 48.8 percent followed by Sweden with 47.3 percent, Costa Rica with 38.6 percent, Finland with 38 percent, and Norway with 37.9 percent.
While the Nordic countries continue to lead the world ranking as a group, the region that leads the list with the most women parliamentarians is Latin America _ just ahead of Europe.
“In Latin America, there were 20 elections last year and in most of those elections women took further strides forward,” Johnsson said.
Another “good news” area was in the Gulf which saw significant political changes.
The United Arab Emirates recorded the highest overall increase in the number of women elected to parliament in 2006, the first year in which both men and women could vote and stand for election.
Nine women won seats, Johnsson said, so “the number of women in parliament went from 0 percent to 22.5 percent which is remarkable.” Women stood for election for the first time in Kuwait as well, though none won, but in Bahrain a woman was elected to the lower house for the first time in that country’s history.
In other pluses, the IPU said there are also a record number of women speakers of parliament - 35 of 262 worldwide. They include women elected speakers for the first time in Gambia, Israel, Swaziland, Turkmenistan, and the United States, where California Democrat Nancy Pelosi was chosen to preside over the House of Representatives.
Overall, of the 43,882 members of national legislatures in the world at the end of January, 7,436 or 16.9 percent were women, according to the IPU survey.
The percentage of women lawmakers in the United States was below that average _ 16.3 percent in the House and 16 percent in the Senate.
On the negative side, Johnsson lamented that in the Pacific island states “there is absolutely zero progress in the last decade ... and we don’t see much hope for progress in the coming elections.”
In two countries emerging from conflict -- Congo and Haiti -- women lost seats in parliament. That reversed a previous trend which had seen the number of women lawmakers increase in post-conflict countries including Afghanistan, Burundi, Rwanda, Mozambique, South Africa and East Timor which all rank in the 30 top countries for women lawmakers.
Johnsson said perhaps the decrease in Congo and Haiti was due to the absence of a quota system for women in either country. The IPU noted that in elections last year, women took 21.7 percent of seats in countries with quotas compared with 11.8 percent in countries without them.