Women in Politics

The Sunday Age published an article this weekend by Sarah Boseley from the Guardian about women in politics in Rwanda. By law women are required to fill 30 per cent of government seats. Rwandan women have gone further and now hold 56 per cent of seats. Rwanda is the only country where women make up 50 per cent or more of parliament.

Chris McGreal has also written on this and notes that:

The women MPs include former rebels and genocide survivors, war widows and peasant farmers… The heads of the Supreme Court and the police are also women, as are a majority of the country’s prison governors.

Before 1994, women held only around one in five parliamentary seats. The genocide changed everything. When the killing ended there were twice as many women as men in Rwanda, and while the gap has since narrowed, more than a third of households are still headed by women. Women also make up 55% of the workforce and own about 40% of businesses.

Both articles herald the benefits of the increase of women in parliament. Women now have rights to inherit and own land and property, rape and domestic violence are seen as serious crimes and contraception is more available to women.

This got me thinking about how those statistics compare to Australian figures. See the table below for a brief breakdown of the larger Women in National Parliaments table by the Inter-Parliamentary Union. This is a breakdown of both upper and lower house.


 Rank  Country Lower or single House Upper House or Senate
Elections Seats Women % W Elections Seats Women % W
1 Rwanda 9 2008 80 45 56.3% 10 2003 26 9 34.6%
2 Sweden 9 2006 349 162 46.4%
15 New Zealand 11 2008 122 41 33.6%
25 Timor-Leste 6 2007 65 19 29.2%
31 Afghanistan 9 2005 249 68 27.3% 9 2005 102 23 22.5%
31 Australia 11 2007 150 41 27.3% 11 2007 76 27 35.5%

Some things to consider when you look at this table – according to the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade website:

  • Women make up just over half of Australia’s total population.
  • In 2006, women accounted for 54.8 per cent of all tertiary education students and 47.5 per cent of all students enrolled in vocational education and training courses.
  • The majority of women were enrolled in management and commerce, society and culture, and food, hospitality and personal services courses.

Sounds promising but consider this, also from the DFAT website:

  • Australian women hold around 36 per cent of senior executive positions.
  • In the private sector, women hold only around 12 per cent of management job and only 9 per cent of private board directorships.

One last thought – how many female Rwandan politicians get media coverage about their hair styles?


  1. Not sure of the relevance of the Australian statistics you’ve detailed in your post as a comparison to the situation in Rwandan politics.

    Is it your premise that there are not enough women in Australia politics? What is the point you have left unspoken? It’s interesting that the same old statistics get rolled out every now and again by the feminist movement and other groups obsessed with political correctness about the apparent discrepancy in numbers of men in board/management positions vs. women.

    A couple of questions I’d like researchers to investigate.

    1. How many women actually want to hold senior management positions?

    2. Should women be appointed to management and government positions based on merit, or legislated minimums?

    The answer to both questions, I believe, would be no.

    I believe that women add enormous value at the senior management level, however, is their absence an unintentional outcome of the ‘pro choice’ hysterics? Are women simply exercising their choice not to fill such positions in favour of lifestyle, family etc? I don’t know – I’m simply asking for evidence that confirms that women are being actively discriminated against. Perhaps they just don’t want those positions!

    I won’t go into the social impact of feminism and the obsession of absolute equality, suffice to say I think it’s interesting that Italy has one of the lowest rates of participation in management by women………it also has one of the lowest divorce rates. Is there a relationship between the two?? Absolutely there is.



    1. Thanks for your comment Stevie, you raise some excellent points. My main interest in the original Rwandan articles was that this participation:
      a – originates in a post-genicide era
      b – is legally mandated at 30%.
      I was interested in the fact that the participation was well above the 30% requirement. That prompted me to compare with Australia where there is no such requirement. It seems to me that perhaps this requirement has encouraged women to feel that they have a greater chance of success, encouraging them to ‘have a go’.

      I am wondering why women fill more positions in tertiary education than men, but the same statistics are not true when we consider management and board roles. So where is this gap occurring?

      Your point on divorce is interesting. Are women opting not to fill these roles due to work/life balance? I would like to see some statistics on divorce rates when the male takes a non-management role, or a child raising role, and the woman becomes the breadwinner. Perhaps then we could lower the divorce rate and let university educated women pay off their HECS debts while they are still young enough to. I did search for some relevant stats regarding stay-at-home men, but nothing that included references to divorce rates.



  2. The prevalence of stay at home dads is becoming increasingly common, in fact accordingly to some quick research I did (gotta love Google!) the rate of dads at home full time has increased almost 600% over the past decade.

    With some personal experience in this space, I can say with significant authority that the reaction to my situation by women has been fascinating. Whilst there has no doubt been some extenuating circumstances, I can definitely say that I have been viewed as somewhat of a hero by other mum’s. I have been described as ‘amazing’ and ‘engaged’ and ‘the best dad I know’. Whilst good for the ego, I disagree that I’m amazing, or for that matter, a hero. I’m simply a dad looking after his kids.

    But those comments got me thinking. I never hear stay-at-home mum’s describe themselves as heroes, or amazing. In fact, I rarely hear anyone give credit to the stay-at-home mum. Doubtlessly, society has devalued the, can I say, ‘typical’ mother’s role – to it’s detriment. There’s this kind of unwritten, unspoken ‘sense’ that a mum, a woman, that chooses to stay at home and care for her family is somehow not reaching her full potential, should be out there in bag bad corporate land gunning for those elusive management positions, and is perhaps letting the sisterhood down.

    Women are frequently scathing of women. The woman that stays at home is not reaching her full potential, the woman that goes to work and leaves her children in childcare is somehow abandoning them. How can a mother, a woman, win?

    But I don’t believe that it’s men sitting back in their favourite armchairs that are casting these dispersions, it’s other woman.

    If women are to succeed in management and political positions, and indeed in the crucial role of homemaker, they need to work together. Feminism needs an overhaul, the term has become way too combative, it has created a sub-culture where women judge women and men are instantly off-side. I think once this overhaul is complete, women stand a much better chance of securing management and political positions — if they so choose.

    Thanks for the interesting topic of discussion Melissa. Looking forward to your next post.



  3. I absolutely agree that the role of the stay at home mother is devalued in many cases. I also agree that being a stay at home father should not be treated differently than a stay at home mother.
    I think your idea of feminism is outdated. But I think we are debating one of the biggest issues here. Being a woman does not necessarily mean being a mother. There are childless women out there, and there are women with grown children who are returning to the workforce.

    A large percentage of women with young children choose to run their own businesses. The internet means that these women are no longer locked to the daily grind and stuck with 9 – 5 prospects. I guess many people undervalue running a small business, compared to larger companies which have boards etc.

    I would also like to make a quick note for the women who have no choice but to return to work and leave their kids.
    Thanks again for your comments, looking forward to your thoughts on other topics.



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