International Women’s Day 2018 – Women in Parliament and Politics

UK Parliament

208 women were elected to the House of Commons at General Election 2017, a record high of 32%. In January 2018 there were 206 female peers, 26% of Members of the House of Lords. There are currently six women in Cabinet including the Prime Minister, 26% of the total 23 permanent Cabinet posts.

Devolved Legislatures and UK MEPs

Just over one-third (36%) of members in the Scottish Parliament are women, compared to just over two-fifths (42%) of members of National Assembly for Wales and 30% of Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly. Following the 2014 European Parliament elections, 41% of UK MEPs are women.

Local Government councillors

32% of local authority councillors in England are women, as of 2013. In Scotland, 24% of councillors are women. Women hold 26% of council seats in Wales. In Northern Ireland 25% of councillors are women.

Women MPs since 1918

Since 1918, 489 women have been elected to House of Commons. In 1918 Constance Markievicz became the first women to be elected as an MP though, elected for Sinn Féin, she did not take her seat. Nancy Astor was the first women to take a seat in the House of Commons, in 1919. The total number of women to have been elected as MPs since 1918 has now surpassed the current number of men sitting in the House of Commons, 442.

Women ministers

Currently there are six women in the Cabinet (including the Prime Minister) which is 26% of 23 Cabinet posts (not including those who “also attend Cabinet”).

Margaret Bondfield was the first ever woman appointed to Cabinet, in 1929; Margaret Thatcher became the UK’s first woman Prime Minister in 1979, and Theresa May the second in 2016.

Women in UK Parliament and elected bodies by Party 

How does the UK compare internationally?

Globally, the UK’s 32% ratio for women in the House of Commons puts it 39th in a ranked list of 193 countries’ lower or single chamber. Rwanda is first with 61% of its lower house women, followed by Bolivia (53%), Cuba (49%) and Nicaragua (46%) . In just two countries do women comprise more than 50% of MPs. The European country with the highest ratio of women is Sweden where 44% of MPs are women, putting it in 5th place in the Inter Parliamentary Union’s rankings of women in parliament.

Currently a woman holds the post of president or prime minister in 16 countries. This is 9% of the 193 countries who are members of the United Nations.

48 women preside over one of the Houses of Parliaments as Speaker or equivalent in 193 countries (January 2018). 77 of these have two Chambers, like the UK’s House of Commons and House of Lords. Women therefore occupy 17% of 277 presiding officer posts in parliamentary chambers globally.

Historically, seven countries had already granted women the right to vote before 1918; the first was New Zealand in 1893. Just five countries had allowed women to stand for election to Parliament before 1918; Australia was the first in 1902.

In the UK women were able to stand for election to Parliament from 1918 and some women, aged over 30, were able to vote from the same year. Voting in the UK was given to women on the same terms as men in 1928

The last European country to give women the vote and allow them to stand for Parliament was Liechtenstein in 1984.

Information about women in Parliaments and politics internationally is available from the IPU:

See also the following breifings:

House of Commons Library:

Women in Parliament and Government (12 Feb 2018)

Women in Public life, the professions and the boardroom (27 July 2017)

 House of Lords Library:

IWD 2018: Steps being taken to press for gender equality globally (28 Feb 2018)

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