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Which countries in Europe have the highest proportion of women in parliament?

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Spain's acting Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez with party members.
Spain's acting Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez with party members. -
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REUTERS/Juan Medina
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Do two of Europe's most recent elections signal a new trend on the continent?

Recent polls in Spain and Finland have seen both countries elect record proportions of women to their respective parliaments.

After a general election in Spain on Sunday, 164 women will now sit alongside 186 men in the country's Congress of Deputies.

This means women now represent 46.8% of those elected to the country's parliament, the highest in Spain's history.

It is the sixth highest in the world and the second biggest proportion in Europe, according to data from the Inter-Parliamentary Union.

But Spain trails Finland — which held elections around two weeks ago — where 47% of MPs are females.

Women hold 22 of the Social Democratic Party's 40 seats, while only three of Finland's green party 20 MPs are male.

Nevertheless, there is not a single European parliament where more than 50% of deputies are women, according to IPU statistics.

Data from the World Bank shows that while the number of women in parliament has risen sharply over the last 30 years, the average of all countries still remains below 24%. In the United States, only 23.5% of elected representatives are women.

How did Spain get here?

Although the Spanish Congress of Deputies elected on Sunday has more women representatives than ever before, it is worth noting that all the party leaders were men.

In 2007, Spain passed a law on equality, making it mandatory for parties to guarantee that for every five candidates, neither of the sexes exceed 60% or fall before 40%. The Equality Law brought in by Jose Luis Rodriguez was aimed towards a balance in male and female candidates.

Since this law came into force, Spain has held five general elections. Since the beginning of this democratic phase, according to the website Moncloa, the number of women has seen an eightfold increase: there were only 21 women in the Constituent Assembly (6% per cent of the total) before the law.

How does the rest of the world fare?

In a recent World Economic Forum study, of the 149 countries evaluated, only 17 are ruled by women, including Angela Merkel in Germany and Jacinda Ardern in New Zealand.

According to UN Women, as of November 2018, only three countries have 50% or more women in parliament in single or lower houses: Rwanda with 61.3%, Cuba with 53.2% and Bolivia with 53.1%; but a greater number of countries have reached 30% or more.

The UN's agency on gender equality highlights that 49 single or lower houses were composed of 30% or more women, including 21 countries in Europe, 13 in Sub-Saharan Africa, 11 in Latin America and the Caribbean, two in the Pacific and one each in Asia and Arab States.

It's important to note that more than half of these countries have applied some form of quotas, opening space for women's political participation in national parliaments.

The latest report of the European Commission published on International Women's Day highlights areas in which gender inequality still dominates in European politics. The key roles are still male-dominated, as are the decisive ministries.

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