This article originally appeared in the World Economic Forum on November 15, 2023. It was co-authored with Silvana Koch-Mehrin, founder and president of Women Political Leaders.
Our governments lack female representation. We need to stop accepting the problem and focus on solving it. At the current rate of progress, full parity will not be reached for another 130 years, according to the World Economic Forum’s latest Global Gender Gap Report.
It turns out that societies gain advantages when their political leadership includes more women. Countries with greater female representation at the highest levels remove legal inequality between men and women, according to a new report by Women Political Leaders and the Oliver Wyman Forum.
Eliminating legal discrimination removes barriers for women. This leads to a boost in female workforce participation as opportunities are equalized, which positively impacts not only the women themselves but also their countries’ GDPs, the research shows.
All nations are different, and there is no single path for increasing the number of women in government leadership roles. What works for some might not work for others. But countries that are under-represented will continue to miss out on the benefits, and the gaps in their growth trajectories will only widen.
Index of equal opportunities
A growing body of evidence demonstrates the impact women have on legislation and when in office. Countries with higher numbers of female political leaders typically pass more laws that remove inequality and score higher on the World Bank’s Women, Business, and the Law (WBL) Index, which measures legal equality of economic opportunity.
A perfect score of 100 means a nation has laws that protect the legal rights of all citizens. Only 14 countries – Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Latvia, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, and Sweden – have perfect scores, according to the index. This means 2.4 billion women around the globe are left without these legal protections and opportunities.
The WBL score increases as more women are elected to office. The average score for nations that have 50% or more women in parliament is 10 percentage points higher than counties that haven’t yet reached parity (88 vs. 78). Similarly, governments in which women occupy at least half of the minister positions have WBL scores 17 percentage points higher on average than those that don’t (95 vs. 78). And those headed by female leaders are 10 percentage points higher than those led by men (86 vs. 76).
This confirms earlier research that found a strong positive correlation between political representation by women and legal equality of economic opportunity. These laws are important because they ensure women and men are treated equally (including protection against discrimination) and typically result in greater female labour force participation, which is currently 30% lower than male participation globally. Full female participation would increase global GDP by an estimated 20%.
Painfully slow progress
At the beginning of 2023, women held about 27% of parliamentary seats and 23% of ministerial positions, and represented fewer than 10% of the world’s heads of state. Only six of the 193 United Nations member nations – Mexico, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Rwanda, UAE and Cuba – have achieved gender equality in parliament, and women hold half or more of the ministerial positions in just 11 nations (Albania, Belgium, Chile, Colombia, Finland, Germany, Mozambique, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Norway and Spain).
We cannot wait another 130 years or more to achieve parity as the Global Gender Gap Report 2023 predicts based on the current progress. The world can’t wait. Getting more women to vote, run for office and stay in politics should be a priority for individuals, political parties and governments. We need women and their impact on our world more than ever given the scale of challenges ahead of us.