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Women gaining ground in political decision-making in the UNECE region, but gender equality still a long way off

Tackling inequality between women and men in the sharing of power and decision-making at all levels is essential to strengthen democracy and achieve peace and sustainable development.

Back in 1995, this was identified as one of twelve critical areas of concern in the landmark Beijing Platform For Action, making a powerful call for the empowerment and autonomy of women in all spheres—social, economic and political.

Close to a quarter of a century on, this call continues to resonate throughout our societies. Building on the Platform for Action, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development includes a target (5.5) to “ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life”. Within this target, indicator 5.5.1 is “proportion of seats held by women in national parliaments and local governments”.

How close are UNECE countries to reaching gender equality in political decision-making?

Members of national parliaments

The representation of women in national parliaments has increased over the past five years, with legislative measures contributing to some of the largest increases.

The sex distribution of national parliamentarians is an important indication of how these relatively prestigious positions of power are shared between women and men. In a democratic society, this reflects the combination of women’s and men’s access to run for office (for example, being placed on lists of candidates where such lists are used), and the likelihood of female and male candidates being elected by voters.

There is a noticeable geographical pattern in the proportions of female parliamentarians across UNECE countries, with the greatest shares seen in the Scandinavian countries, followed by Western Europe. Sweden, Finland and Norway each have more than 40 per cent women among members of parliament, and a further 16 countries have more than 30 per cent women.

In 36 countries across the region, the share of women parliamentarians increased over the period 2012-2018. Among these, four showed a marked increase of more than ten percentage points (Italy, Albania, France and Montenegro). In the cases of Italy, Albania and Montenegro the large increases over this time period may be in part attributable to changes in legislation which came into effect during this period. Meanwhile, three countries (Croatia, Uzbekistan and Latvia) saw reductions of more than 5 per cent (-5.3, -6.0 and -7.0 per cent, respectively).

Proportion of women among members of national parliaments, 2018, with changes from 2012

Source: UNECE Statistical Database (bit.ly/UNECEdataParliament)

Women in local government

Women are in a minority in local governments across the UNECE region, with only four countries reaching the threshold of 40 per cent, considered as “gender parity”.

In cooperation with UN Women, in 2018 UNECE replaced its previous indicator - members of municipal councils or other local area governing bodies - with the newly-developed indicator seats held by women in local government, defined according to the methodology developed by UN Women for the purposes of producing SDG indicator 5.5.1(b).

Belarus, Iceland, Sweden and France have reached or exceeded the threshold of 40 per cent women among seats held in local government, a threshold sometimes considered as ‘gender parity’ (since chance departures from exactly 50 per cent can be expected among a relatively small group). With 48 per cent women, the local government of Belarus has the largest proportion female. Turkey, Romania and Georgia have the smallest proportions, with 10, 13 and 13 per cent, respectively. 

Proportion of seats held by women in local governments, 1 January 2019*

Source: UNECE Statistical Database: unece.org/data

* Data represent values as at 1 January 2019: most recent local elections vary from 2014 to 2018.

UNECE Beijing+25 Regional Review Meeting

Progress in achieving gender equality in political decision-making will be one of the areas in focus at the upcoming Beijing+25 Regional Review Meeting for the UNECE region.

The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action of 1995 (Beijing Platform for Action) is the most ambitious road map for the empowerment of women and girls everywhere. In 2020, it will be 25 years since the Beijing Platform for Action outlined how to overcome the systemic barriers that hold women back from equal participation in all areas of life.

The Beijing+25 Regional Review Meeting (29-30 October 2019) will take stock of where the UNECE region stands on keeping the promises of the Beijing Platform for Action. 


Bringing together government representatives and key stakeholders from the UNECE region, the meeting will tackle a number of obstacles that keep girls and women from realizing their full potential. UNECE is joining forces with the UN Women Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia to deliver a two-day multi-stakeholder meeting to exchange concrete policies to accelerate the realization of gender equality. The outcomes of the meeting will feed into the global review of the Beijing Platform for Action taking place at the sixty-fourth session of the Commission on the Status of Women in New York from 9 to 20 March 2020.


Beijing+25 Regional Review Meeting

Date: 29-30 October 2019

Venue: Palais des Nations, Geneva, Switzerland

More information and registration:  http://www.unece.org/beijing25.html