Where Women Hold the Most and Least Political Power
From the right to vote, to owning property and assets, women’s legal and economic rights have come a long way.
International Women’s Day, held annually on March 8th is an opportunity to commemorate global improvements around gender equality. One big driver for this is women’s political participation—however, progress in this area has not been distributed evenly worldwide.
Women’s Political Power: Share of Ministers in Cabinets
In this map, we dig into how much political power women hold around the world. The Council on Foreign Relations pulls the latest data from UN Women and the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) to examine the shares of women holding ministerial positions in 195 national cabinets.
Here are the top five countries with the highest percentages of women’s political power:
- 🇪🇸 Spain: 66.7%
- 🇫🇮 Finland: 61.1%
- 🇳🇮 Nicaragua: 58.8%
- 🇨🇴 Colombia: 57.9%
- 🇦🇹 Austria: 57.1%
Even though women make up half the global population, they’re not always represented at higher levels of government. Only 14 countries have at least 50% women holding ministerial positions in the national cabinet.
|Country||Region||% Women in National Cabinet|
|Algeria||Middle East/North Africa||15.2|
|Antigua and Barbuda||Americas||15.4|
|Bahrain||Middle East/North Africa||4.4|
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||Europe||22.2|
|Burkina Faso||Sub-Saharan Africa||14.3|
|Cape Verde||Sub-Saharan Africa||21.4|
|Central African Republic||Sub-Saharan Africa||20.0|
|Cote d'Ivoire||Sub-Saharan Africa||12.8|
|Democratic Republic of Congo||Sub-Saharan Africa||17.4|
|Egypt||Middle East/North Africa||24.2|
|Equatorial Guinea||Sub-Saharan Africa||7.1|
|Iran||Middle East/North Africa||6.5|
|Iraq||Middle East/North Africa||4.6|
|Israel||Middle East/North Africa||16.7|
|Jordan||Middle East/North Africa||13.8|
|Kuwait||Middle East/North Africa||21.4|
|Lebanon||Middle East/North Africa||31.6|
|Libya||Middle East/North Africa||-|
|Morocco||Middle East/North Africa||15.8|
|North Korea||Asia and the Pacific||-|
|Oman||Middle East/North Africa||11.1|
|Papua New Guinea||Asia-Pacific||0.0|
|Qatar||Middle East/North Africa||7.1|
|Republic of Congo||Sub-Saharan Africa||21.2|
|Saint Kitts and Nevis||Americas||11.1|
|Saint Vincent and the Grenadines||Americas||0.0|
|Sao Tome and Principe||Sub-Saharan Africa||33.3|
|Saudi Arabia||Middle East/North Africa||0.0|
|Sierra Leone||Sub-Saharan Africa||17.2|
|South Africa||Sub-Saharan Africa||48.3|
|South Sudan||Sub-Saharan Africa||15.6|
|Syria||Middle East/North Africa||13.3|
|Trinidad and Tobago||Americas||33.3|
|Tunisia||Middle East/North Africa||6.9|
|United Arab Emirates||Middle East/North Africa||16.7|
|Yemen||Middle East/North Africa||6.3|
On the flip side, nine countries have 0% women in their national cabinet, such as Saudi Arabia and Thailand.
The silver lining to this is that Saudi Arabia is actually improving in some areas of women’s economic rights in recent years, such as granting more freedom of movement to travel and prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis on gender.
The Most Powerful Women: Female Heads of State/Government
From Indira Gandhi to Margaret Thatcher, many women have held notable and influential leadership positions in the past, serving as tours de force for the global economy.
Presently, there are only 24 countries with a female head of state or government. Moldova’s Maia Sandu is the latest to rise into a Presidential role as of December 2020. Here’s who the rest are, and their titles.
|🇧🇩 Bangladesh||Sheikh Hasina||Prime Minister|
|🇧🇧 Barbados||Mia Mottley||Prime Minister|
|🇩🇰 Denmark||Mette Frederiksen||Prime Minister|
|🇪🇪 Estonia||Kersti Kaljulaid||President|
|🇪🇪 Estonia||Kaja Kallas||Prime Minister|
|🇪🇹 Ethiopia||Sahle-Work Zewde||President|
|🇫🇮 Finland||Sanna Marin||Prime Minister|
|🇬🇦 Gabon||Rose Christiane Ossouka Raponda||Prime Minister|
|🇬🇪 Georgia||Salomé Zourabichvili||President|
|🇩🇪 Germany||Angela Merkel||Chancellor|
|🇬🇷 Greece||Katerina Sakellaropoulou||President|
|🇮🇸 Iceland||Katrín Jakobsdóttir||Prime Minister|
|🇱🇹 Lithuania||Ingrida Šimonytė||Prime Minister|
|🇲🇩 Moldova||Maia Sandu||President|
|🇳🇦 Namibia||Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila||Prime Minister|
|🇳🇵 Nepal||Bidhya Devi Bhandari||President|
|🇳🇿 New Zealand||Jacinda Ardern||Prime Minister|
|🇳🇴 Norway||Erna Solberg||Prime Minister|
|🇷🇸 Serbia||Ana Brnabić||Prime Minister|
|🇸🇬 Singapore||Halimah Yacob||President|
|🇸🇰 Slovakia||Zuzana Čaputová||President|
|🇹🇬 Togo||Victoire Tomegah Dogbé||Prime Minister|
|🇹🇹 Trinidad and Tobago||Paula-Mae Weekes||President|
|🇹🇼 Taiwan||Tsai Ing-wen||President|
Last updated: Mar 2, 2021
As the chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel holds the longest consecutive term of all female heads of state/government. With 15 years under her belt, Merkel is largely seen as a de facto leader of Europe. However, she intends to step down as chancellor after her term ends in September 2021.
Since 1946, Switzerland has had five total elected or appointed female heads of state or governments—the highest of any country. Simonette Sommaruga, the most recent female president of the nation, was only succeeded in the new year and dropped off this list.
Glass Ceiling in Politics?
While women have made strides in reaching their political potential worldwide, it’s interesting to note that they generally have a harder time ascending to office in larger countries compared to smaller economies.
For example, Estonia is the first country to have two female heads of state/government with both the president and prime minister positions being filled by women. On the flipside, many other countries have never had even one female head of state.
That said, shares of women holding seats in national legislatures are growing worldwide, which means that progress in these upper levels may be just around the corner.
“No country can ever truly flourish if it stifles the potential of its women and deprives itself of the contributions of half its citizens.”
Visualizing the BRICS Expansion in 4 Charts
We provide a data-driven overview of how the recent BRICS expansion will grow the group’s influence and reach.
Visualizing the BRICS Expansion in 4 Charts
BRICS is an association of five major countries including Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. Distinguished by their emerging economies, the group has sought to improve diplomatic coordination, reform global financial institutions, and ultimately serve as a counterbalance to Western hegemony.
On Aug. 24, 2023, BRICS announced that it would formally accept six new members at the start of 2024: Saudi Arabia, Iran, Ethiopia, Egypt, Argentina, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
In this graphic, we provide a data-driven overview of how the BRICS expansion will grow the group’s influence and reach.
Share of Global GDP
Because most of the new BRICS members are considered to be developing economies, their addition to the group will not have a major impact on its overall share of GDP.
The following table includes GDP projections for 2023, courtesy of the IMF.
|Country||GDP (USD billions)||Share of Global (%)|
|Yes||🇿🇦 South Africa||$399||0.4%|
|No||🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia||$1,062||1.0%|
|-||Rest of World||$74,362||70.7%|
The original six BRICS members are expected to have a combined GDP of $27.6 trillion in 2023, representing 26.3% of the global total. With the new members included, expected GDP climbs slightly to $30.8 trillion, enough for a 29.3% global share.
Share of Global Population
BRICS has always represented a major chunk of global population thanks to China and India, which are the only countries with over 1 billion people.
The two biggest populations being added to BRICS are Ethiopia (126.5 million) and Egypt (112.7 million). See the following table for population data from World Population Review, which is dated as of 2023.
|Country||Population||Share of Global (%)|
|Yes||🇿🇦 South Africa||60,414,495||0.8%|
|No||🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia||36,947,025||0.5%|
|-||BRICS Total||3.7 billion||46.0%|
|-||Rest of World||4.3 billion||54.0%|
It’s possible that BRICS could eventually surpass 50% of global population, as many more countries have expressed their desire to join.
Share of Oil Production
Although the world is trying to move away from fossil fuels, the global oil market is still incredibly large—and BRICS is set to play a much bigger role in it. This is mostly due to the admission of Saudi Arabia, which alone accounts for 12.9% of global oil production.
Based on 2022 figures from the Energy Institute Statistical Review of World Energy, BRICS’ share of oil production will grow from 20.4% to 43.1%.
|Share of Global (%)|
|Yes||🇿🇦 South Africa||0||0.0%|
|No||🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia||12,136||12.9%|
|-||Rest of World||53,394||56.9%|
It’s worth noting that China has been pushing for oil trade to be denominated in yuan, and that Saudi Arabia’s acceptance into BRICS could bolster this ambition, potentially shifting the dynamics of global oil trade.
Share of Global Exports
The last metric included in our graphic is global exports, which is based on 2022 data from the World Trade Organization. We can see that the BRICS expansion will grow the group’s share of global exports (merchandise trade) to 25.1%, up from 20.2%.
|Country||Exports (USD billions)||Share of Global (%)|
|Yes||🇿🇦 South Africa||123||0.5%|
|No||🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia||410||1.6%|
|-||Rest of World||18,646||74.9%|
Unsurprisingly, China is the world’s largest exporter. Major exporters that are not a part of BRICS include the U.S. (8.3%), Germany (6.6%), the Netherlands (3.9%), and Japan (3.0%).
Who Else Wants to Join?
According to Reuters, there are over 40 countries that have expressed interest in joining BRICS. A smaller group of 16 countries have actually applied for membership, though, and this list includes Algeria, Cuba, Indonesia, Palestine, and Vietnam.
As the group grows in size, differing opinions and priorities among its members could create tensions in the future. For example, India and China have had numerous border disputes in recent years, while Brazil’s newly elected President has sought to “kickstart a new era of relations” with the U.S.
One thing that is certain, however, is that a new acronym for the group will be needed very soon.
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