Although efforts to achieve gender equality have increased during the past few decades, complete gender equality has not been reached to this day (United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs 2021a). This is why number 5 of the Sustainable Development Goals aims to “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls” (United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs 2021a). One subordinate target of this goal directs at the full participation as well as equal opportunities for women to reach leadership positions at the political as well as the economic level. The aim of this project, which was created in the context of the Master’s course GEO878 Geovisualisation at the University of Zurich, is thus to investigate the current and past situation of women in leadership positions in politics and management.
The basic goal of this project is to find out how proportions of women in politics and management have developed during the past two decades. This will lead to a gain in knowledge about the developments towards gender equality as aspired by the SDG Target 5.5. In relation to the United Nation goals above, the research questions of this project are the following:
A detailed analysis of this topic is important as women are still underrepresented in political or economic leadership positions compared to men. To give women equal opportunities to leadership positions, full gender equality is needed as demanded by the United Nations.
To ensure policy making that addresses the needs of women and takes gender equality to a next level, it is crucial to include women in national parliaments and local governments. Yet, women are underrepresented in politics and countries that set quotas for women in national parliaments are still outnumbered (United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs 2021a). Globally, only roughly 25% of politicians in national parliaments are women (UN Women 2021a). Regarding the countries that manage to fill their seats in parliament with a proportion of more than 40 percent of women, two-thirds of them have applied gender quotas (UN Women 2021a). This indicates that gender quotas can be a good starting point in enabling women to take action in national parliaments. Nevertheless, one must consider that not all women have the opportunity of taking political action, starting from a local government level as well. The compatibility of family and work or the sheer coverage of livelihoods can often hinder women in doing so. In return, these circumstances can be counteracted by setting political guidelines. It is therefore important to monitor the proportion of seats held by women in national parliaments and also local governments.
In the field of business and entrepreneurship, women are catching up with men every year and are thus increasingly present in the economy. United Nations Women (2021b) reports that in 2020, more women than ever before held the position of CEO of the Fortune 500 companies (the largest companies in the United States of America). However, appearances are deceptive, as only about 7 percent of the companies on the list are headed by women. In addition, women are less likely to be entrepreneurs and have disadvantages in starting their own businesses. The United Nations further describes that women experience intersecting forms of discrimination in the workplace that prevent them from advancing in their careers or obtaining leadership positions. These multiple forms of discriminatory practices include sexual harassment, the gender wage gap and a lack of family-friendly policies. Therefore, it is even more important to achieve a better position for women in leadership positions and to fight for gender equality, as proposed by the SDG Target 5.5.
The Women, Business and the Law (WBL) Index was established by the World Bank 50 years ago, and provides a measure of economic opportunities of women in 190 countries across the globe by analysing laws relating to gender equality (World Bank 2021a). The level of economic opportunities is assessed for the following 8 categories: mobility, workplace, pay, marriage, parenthood, entrepreneurship, assets and pension. For each of these indicators an economy is assigned a value between 0 and 100 based on the present laws and regulations regarding gender equality. The higher a value, the more equal the economic opportunities are for all genders. The values are based on a set of questions per category such as Do men and women have equal ownership rights to immovable property? (assets) or Can women work the same night hours as men? (pay) (World Bank 2021b). These indicators are then combined to form the WBL Index. The overall goal of the index is thus to monitor and document global developments towards a closure of the gender gap.
Apart from their sex, which is the main discriminatory factor in the scope of this project, people may also be discriminated based on other facets of their identity. These include a person’s gender identity, sexual orientation, race, class, nationality or potential disability (YW Boston 2017). Individuals and groups may face multiple discrimination, which limits their promotion prospects in their career or how they are perceived and treated in society as a whole.
Intersectionality provides a framework to investigate these constructed differences between individuals and can draw attention to what difficulties members of a social group may be confronted with. However, it can be challenging to quantify these interwoven inequalities, especially if they are not included in data collection. Certainly, governments should not pressure their citizens into revealing sensitive information such as their sexual orientation, and privacy should be respected as linking such information to a person’s identity may endanger them especially in certain countries. On the other hand, this makes it challenging to grasp the scale of intersectional discrimination as data are often unavailable. The United Nations aim at following the principle of Leave No One Behind, which “identifies inequalities and discrimination (which) requires the generation of evidence and data collection and disaggregation that go beyond gender, geography and age, to include all grounds of discrimination prohibited under international law” (UN Sustainable Development Group 2021). This principle goes into the same direction as the intersectional theory.Sex and Gender Identity
The data, which was used during this project, is based on sex and gender dualism, assuming that only two sexes and genders exist.
This neglects the existence of intersex people and does not take into account different gender identities such as transgender.
Acknowledging and making these identities available in data may increase gender equality – for all existing genders.
For more information on this topic, see the UN Free & Equal (2021) definitions.
To answer the research questions above, three datasets are analyzed spatially as well as temporally. The data on the proportion of women in national parliaments (United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs 2021b) and managerial positions (United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs 2021c) are managed and published by the United Nations. These datasets represent the basis of the official SDG indicators 5.5.1 and 5.5.2. Data on the number of seats held by women in national parliaments and the proportion of women in managerial positions are available for 196 and 169 countries for the periods of 2000-2021 and 2000-2020, respectively, as well as summarized for world regions. However, for the analysis in this project only the country-level data is of interest. There are strong differences in the completeness of the data, which is likely due to the unavailability of the data for certain years in some countries.
The third data source is the Women, Business and the Law Index published by the World Bank (2021b). The dataset contains information on the overall WBL Index as well as its eight indicators for 190 economies in the world for the years 1971 to 2021. For this analysis, only the index of 2021 is relevant, which was calculated based on the data collected for the year of 2020.
To get an initial overview of how proportions of women in national parliaments and managerial positions have developed, the animated map below exhibits the temporal and spatial evolution of the two parameters during the past two decades. The two layers can be switched on and off in the layer list, the speed of the animation can be controlled in the time slider feature and country specific information can be accessed through clicking on the map.
Development of the proportion of women in politics from 2000 to 2021:
Since the year of 2000 the global mean proportion of women in national parliaments has increased steadily from 11.33% to 23.82% in 2021. The values present in this parameter range from 0 to 63.75%. The maximum value was reached in Rwanda in 2014, where the proportion of seats held by women was 17.14% in 2000. High values in 2021 are mostly clustered around Europe, South Africa as well as some countries in Central and South America, whereas Asian and Central African countries exhibit lower proportions of seats in national parliament held by women.
Development of the proportion of women in managerial positions from 2000 to 2020:
The trend in the proportion of women in managerial positions is slightly less clear. Although an overall increase can be observed, the global means fluctuate around a value of 30% and even drop between the years 2019 and 2020 from 34.60% to 27.68%. For the interpretation of this data it must however be taken into consideration that the dataset, upon which the animation is based, only contains 49.89% valid data due to relatively large data gaps. Regarding the spatial distribution of women in managerial positions it is clear that countries in the very North as well as the South of the world are associated with higher values while regions around the Equator have fewer women in management. However, regions of low latitude are also affected by the most data gaps, which certainly biases this spatial trend.
In order to investigate the change occurring during the past two decades, the differences between 2000 and today were calculated and are displayed in the map below. To change between the realms of politics and management, one must simply change the tab at the bottom of the map. Because data for the management parameter is very sparse in 2020, the year of 2019 was chosen to calculate the difference.
Difference in the proportion of women in politics from 2000 and 2020:
At first glance, the map appears very purple, which means that the values are in the positive range. This shows that in most countries of the world, the number of women in national parliaments has increased over the last 20 years. This general increase is also reflected in the graph at the bottom right, which shows the global increase in the proportion of women in parliament per year. The increase flattens out slightly in 2011, but then continues to rise steadily. The United Emirates (increase from 0 to 50%) and Rwanda (increase from 17 to 61%) stand out with a particularly high increase in the proportion of women in national parliaments.
Difference in the proportion of women in management positions from 2000 and 2019:
This map also shows mainly purple choropleths, which means that in most countries there is an increase of women in management positions. Nevertheless, there are also several countries where the number of women in management positions has decreased. The chart at the bottom right shows the countries in which the proportion of women in management has increased or decreased. Bolivia stands out as a negative example with a decrease in the proportion from 39 to 29%. The proportion of women in management has increased most in El Salvador (26 to 44%), Georgia (19 to 37%) and Botswana (35 to 54%) since 2000.
If the two difference maps are viewed side by side, it is noticeable that, in comparison to the map of women in management, there are almost no negative values in the map of women in parliament. The percentage figure at the bottom left of the dashboard shows the general global trend in the proportion of women in parliament or management. Here, politics performs much better with an increase of about 13% more women in national parliaments, compared to about 6% more women in management positions.
The range of opportunity women have in their country is certainly strongly tied to the laws and regulations affecting women specifically. Due to this, the map below investigates the connection between the WBL Index introduced in the background section with the data presented in the web maps above. The values in the legend are qualitative and range from low to high, the actual values upon which the classification is based on represent the range of values present (politics: 0-64%, management: 0-63%, WBL Index: 26-100%) and the classification was performed with the quantile method, which leads to an equal number of values per class.
WBL Index (2021) against the Proportion of Women in National Parliaments (2020):
The aim of this map is to visually examine whether countries with a high or low WBL Index are also likely to have a high or low proportion of women in national parliament, respectively. This can be seen in the bivariate color pattern, where attention is drawn to the clusters of dark blue areas, which indicate that both WBL Index and parliament scores are high. On the other side of the spectrum, countries with a light lilac tone indicate that a low WBL Index goes hand in hand with a comparatively low proportion of women in parliaments. Further, only few areas were classified as low in WBL Index and high in the proportion of women in national parliaments, and vice versa. This distribution suggests a positive relationship between the two indicators. This means that the political participation is high in countries where women have more equal opportunities as men in the realms of mobility, pay, workplace, marriage, parenthood, entrepreneurship, assets and pension.
WBL Index (2021) against the Proportion of Women in Managerial Positions (2019):
Comparing the WBL Index with the proportion of women in managerial positions, the pattern differs from the WBL Index and politics map. A major role plays the data availability of the managerial positions. A great amount of countries does not deliver this information, hence a comparison to the WBL Index could not be made in these cases. In return, the existing values are stretched over the available countries. This makes a worldwide interpretation difficult and only a mild correlation between WBL Index and the proportion of women in managerial positions can be found. This can again be seen on the map, where all of the nine classifications can be found, with much scarcer spatial autocorrelation between countries. Nevertheless, while zooming for example into the area of Europe, the indicators can be compared to each other and potential inequalities can be identified. However, it would be very interesting to be able to make conclusions based on a larger variety of countries.
As of 2021 only 10 economies (Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Ireland, Latvia, Luxembourg, Portugal and Sweden) have reached the maximum WBL Index of 100 (World Bank 2021a). This means that in terms of the legal situation, women and men have the same rights in these countries. The global average, however, shows that women have one quarter fewer rights compared to men. It has been found that providing equal opportunities to women and men has a positive effect on a nation’s economy as well as its overall development (World Bank 2021a).
The analysis of the data related to gender equality in the realms of politics and management has shown that a positive trend has occurred in all parameters since 2000. The overall percentage of women in national parliaments and in managerial positions have increased by 13.1% and 6.1% since 2000. Although the global mean overlooks the individual development of single countries, it certainly gives an estimate of the progress towards an effective participation of women in politics and management and thus a step closer to gender equality.
Qualitatively comparing the number of women in national parliaments and managerial positions with the WBL Index for the respective countries has also shown that a positive relationship exists between the two variables. This means that progress towards gender equality in the legal realm reflected in the WBL Index, actually lead to a higher participation of women in politics and management.
One limitation of the data sources in this analysis is the abstraction of gender to two categories and the exclusion of gender identities apart from ‘female’ and ‘male’. In order to achieve full gender equality, data collection and its analysis must certainly include the entire spectrum of existing gender identities. Additionally, it is important to mention that the parameters analyzed in this study do not draw the whole picture regarding the equality of women to men. The proportion of women in national parliaments and managerial positions undoubtedly give an indication of the state of gender equality in the countries. However, no conclusions on other domains of everyday life of women in the world can be drawn from these parameters.
In conclusion, this analysis has shown a positive development of the proportion of women in politics and management. Nevertheless, according to the WBL Index report of 2021 (World Bank 2021a), women only have around 75% of the rights males have. This makes it clear that even though progress towards gender equality has been made, there is still a long way to go.
UN Free & Equal (2021): Definitions. (Access: 23.05.2021).
United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs (2021a): Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. (Access: 12.05.2021).
UN Sustainable Development Group (2021): Universal Values Principle Two: Leave No One Behind. (Access: 23.05.2021).
UN Women (2021a): Facts and figures: Women’s leadership and political participation. (Access: 27.05.2021).
UN Women (2021b): Claiming women’s space in leadership. (Access: 11.05.2021).
World Bank (2021a): Women, Business and the Law 2021. Washington, DC: World Bank. © World Bank. License: CC BY 3.0 IGO. (Access: 05.05.2021).
YW Boston Blog (2017): What is intersectionality, and what does it have to do with me? (Access: 23.05.2021).
United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Statistics Division (2021b). Proportion of seats held by women in national parliaments (% of total number of seats) SG_GEN_PARL. (Access: 24.03.2021).
United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Statistics Division (2021c). Proportion of women in managerial positions (%) IC_GEN_MGTL. (Access: 24.03.2021).
World Bank (2021b): Women, Business and the Law Data for 1971-2021. Washington, DC: World Bank. © World Bank. (Access: 21.04.2021).
SDG Logo (unedited): Gender Equality. (Access: 22.03.21).
Banner (unedited): RELX - SDG Resource Center. (Access: 10.05.21).