Democracy’s spread around the globe has done little to increase the role of women in one critical area. Men still make the laws.
Three countries have national legislative bodies that are more than one-third female - Sweden, Norway and Finland - according to a survey released Wednesday by the Geneva-based Inter-Parliamentary Union.
The union, which includes representatives of lawmaking bodies around the world, found that the number of women in world parliaments grew 0.4 percent since 1995. Its report is based on surveys of more than 1,000 political parties and governments.
The U.S. Congress - a model for many legislatures worldwide - rates at the world average for female officeholders: 11.7 percent.
Women gained four seats in the House of Representatives in the November election for 51 of 435, and reached an all-time high of nine seats in the 100-member U.S. Senate.
Rita Sussmuth, speaker of the German Parliament said that under representation of women can mean issues affecting children, older people, families, and women’s rights get short shrift.
“I think that there is a more practical approach from women. We are not the better human beings, but we bring in our daily experience and very often you will find that where there are no women, all these topics are not discussed and are not listened to in politics,” Sussmuth said.
The number of women lawmakers declined in some countries - Russia, Italy, Slovenia and Nicaragua among them - and there’s been a worldwide decline since female representation reached a peak of 14.8 percent in 1988.
In 50 years of parliamentary history, the report said, the number of countries with elected lawmaking bodies has increased sevenfold, while the number of women lawmakers worldwide has increased fourfold.
During the same half century, 38 of 186 countries with lawmaking bodies have ever selected a woman to preside over one or more houses. Currently, 7 percent of parliaments are headed by women.
Women fared best in Nordic countries, where they average 36.4 percent of elected officials, with the rest of the world trailing far behind: Asia is a distant second with 13.1 percent, followed by the Western Hemisphere with 12.7 percent, Pacific nations with 11.6 percent, the rest of Europe with 10.9 percent, Sub-Saharan Africa with 10.4 percent and Arab states with 3.3 percent.
Communist governments and one-party states that take steps to ensure female inclusion in rubber-stamp parliaments are near the top of the heap. China, Cuba and North Korea, for instance, each have national assemblies comprised of more than 20 percent women.
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