Members of Parliament from 77 countries will meet in New Delhi today to discuss ways to bridge the gender gap in a follow-up to the 1995 United Nations Conference on Women in Peking, of which the survey forms a key part.
"The percentage of women involved in politics is far below parity," Pierre Cornillon, secretary- general of the Geneva-based Inter-Par- liamentary Union. Its study of 179 parliaments released yesterday in Geneva, Washington and New Delhi, showed that only 11.7 per cent of the MPs world-wide are women, down from a high of 14.6 per cent in 1898, despite women comprising half of the world's population.
The IPU, which surveyed 1,000 political parties, also said that only one out of every 10 party leaders was a woman despite a large number of female activists, and the gap between the sexes in political power was wider now than in 1985.
Countries with a high proportion of women MPs, such as Sweden, which came out best with more than 40 per cent or Norway, with 39 per cent, tend to use a different electoral system. Women make up 9 per cent of the MPs in Britain - where Nancy Astor was one of the first female MPs - and 6 per cent of those in France.
Some countries did not even have enough women legislators to meet a request that their small delegations to New Delhi be half female. They were told to make up the numbers with men. "The IPU will be advocating a new social contract for democracy based on parity between men and women in politics," Mr Cornillon said in a statement.
But he added that the IPU had given up its aim to achieve gender parity in parliaments by 2000 in favour of a more pragmatic approach.
Organisers said the conference would debate key issues to help boost women in parliaments such as financing women's electoral campaigns, quotas for women in parliaments and the image of women politicians in the media.