Voices & Choices

International Women’s Day and Proportional Representation

International Women’s Day and Proportional Representation

Today, people across the world are marking International Women’s Day by celebrating the accomplishments of women past, present, and future. Here at FairVote, we are taking this opportunity to highlight how women around the world benefit from proportional representation because it encourages women to reach the highest levels of power, without being told to ‘wait their turn’. 

Around the globe, women are twice as likely to be elected in the countries that use proportional representation than they are in a winner-take-all system like ours. Across the 78 countries that use proportional representation, women make up 28% of legislative bodies on average, compared to 25% in the 38 countries that used a mixed system. This percentage under proportional representation is also higher than the American national average of 25% of the legislators. 

In a study of 36 countries, the percentage of women who were elected to the legislature was 8% higher in countries that used proportional representation than it was in winner-take-all countries. In every Western European country that uses proportional representation, women hold at least 20% of parliamentary seats. Data published by RepresentWomen shows that across the world, out of the 25 countries ranked highest for gender parity, 72% use proportional representation or a mixed system, and only 2 (8%) use a winner-take-all system. Additionally, of the 13 countries that are led by women, 7 (54%) of them use proportional representation, 4 (31%) use a mixed system, and just 2 (15%) use a winner-take-all system.

Here are a few notable examples of countries that use proportional representation and have made significant strides in achieving gender parity in government:

 

Mexico

Through a combination of proportional representation and a quota system, Mexico’s Chamber of Deputies has achieved gender equality, with half of the members (250 of 500) being women. Additionally, as of June 2020, Mexico ranked 5th for women’s representation in the lower house.   

 

Germany

Germany uses proportional representation in some districts and winner-take-all systems in other districts. In one instance, evidence showed that in the districts using a winner-take-all system, 13% of elected representatives were women. However, in the districts that used proportional representation, 39% of the elected representatives were women.  

 

Australia

Australia has a long history of using proportional representation. They have been using proportional representation since 1948 and the system has facilitated the rise of female representation. Today, women hold over half the seats in the Senate. 

 

New Zealand

Similar to Germany, New Zealand also uses both proportional representation and winner-take-all systems in various districts. The data is stark: districts that use proportional representation elect more women. In districts that use a winner-take-all system, only 15% of those elected were women, while in districts that used proportional representation, 45% of those elected were women. Female representation in New Zealand is no better personified than by their prime minister, Jacinda Ardern. Ardern is the third female prime minister of the country in approximately 100 years, she is the second head of state to ever give birth while in office, and today she is the youngest woman elected to lead her country in the world. 

Aside from running and winning seats in the legislature, proportional representation also leads to higher voter turnout among women across the world. It has been hypothesized that seeing women running, or already serving in office, leads to more engagement among female voters. There is no doubt about it: proportional representation leads to more women voting, running, and winning. When women are engaged and claim seats at the table it creates better, more representative governments. Here at home, FairVote and our allies are working to create an American system of proportional representation through legislation like the Fair Representation Act and a more representative and equitable democracy we can celebrate together.

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