Proportional representation helped women get elected in 2022

Thea Ridley-Castle, Research and Policy Officer

Posted on the 27th July 2023

In January 2023, the global proportion of women parliamentarians just was 26.5%, indicating that there’s a way to go before we have equal numbers of men and women in parliament around the world.

While quotas can make a big difference, they aren’t the only factor that can help women get their rightful place in Parliament.

In 2022, 47 countries re-elected either their upper or lower house. In countries with a quota system for women, 30.9% of the total number elected were women; in comparison, in countries with no quotas, only 21.2% of MPs elected were women. Quotas make a real difference to women’s representation in parliament, but so does the electoral system.

In 2022, countries with either proportional representation (PR) or mixed electoral systems collectively elected 29% women to their parliaments, whereas countries with majority or plurality systems like First Past the Post only elected 22.4% women to their parliaments. The electoral system used also influences the likelihood of applying gender quotas.

Of those countries holding elections in 2022, nearly three-quarters (73%) of countries with PR or mixed electoral systems had either a voluntary or legislated gender quota in place, whereas in majority or plurality systems nearly three-quarters of countries (73%) did not have any type of quota in place.

As the below chart shows, countries which use Proportional Representation consistently elected more women in 2022 in comparison to countries with a plurality/majority system and that positive effect was amplified through the application of gender quotas.

Why proportional representation helps women get elected

Matland and Studlar argue that “the greater number of parties in proportional representation systems provides an increased probability that one party will decide actively to promote women candidates” When one party starts standing female candidates, others tend to follow.

Proportional voting systems rely on larger constituencies that elect more than one MP. These ‘Multi-Member Districts’ allow parties to field numerous candidates within the same constituency. There is a greater opportunity to field more diverse candidates alongside the incumbent.

In contrast, in First Past the Post the focus is on one candidate, which minimises the opportunity to consider the balance across candidates. Moreover, it may be necessary to remove an incumbent or go against central party interest to put forward a woman candidate. Matland and Studlar argue that parties may “ignore the external challenge” in to avoid “creating internal strife and antagonizing powerful intraparty interest”.

Due to the design of the ballot, it is also easier to implement quotas on PR ballot paper. For example, in systems which use party lists it is relatively easy to interlock the list candidates to ensure a balanced list is presented. In First Past the Post, balance between men and women must be done at the macro-level between constituencies rather than it being able to be adopted from within each constituency list.

Voting systems which use PR are more successful in electing women whether they include gender quotas or not. However, PR alone will not sufficiently increase the speed in which we achieve gender parity. It is evident that gender quotas and a PR system working in tandem are the most conducive mechanism to increase gender parity.

We’ll be exploring how different countries around the world use quotas and proportional representation to increase the speed of achieving gender parity in a new report coming out later this year.

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