COMPARE: Which European nations have the highest (and lowest) percentage of women MPs?

When election results came in on Sunday, Iceland became the first European country where women hold more than half the seats in parliament. We take a look at Europe's best and worst performers when it comes to female representation in politics.

COMPARE: Which European nations have the highest (and lowest) percentage of women MPs?
Icelandic Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir talks to supporters of her Left Green Movement at a party event in Reykjavik on September 25, 2021 after the announcement of partial results in the country's general elections. - Iceland's election on September 25 saw the left-right coalition government widen its majority. However, Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir's Left Green Movement emerged weakened while her right-wing partners posted strong scores, casting doubt over her future as prime minister. (Photo by Tom LITTLE / AFP)

The Althing is thought to be the longest-running parliament in the world. But on Sunday, the Icelandic national parliament really made history. 

Election results point to an elected chamber where 33 out of 63 seats (52 percent) will be held by women. No other European country has ever had a female-majority parliament – although Rwanda (61 percent), Cuba (53 percent) and Nicaragua (51 percent) all fall into this category. 

Iceland has ranked topped the World Economic Forum’s gender equality rankings for the past 12 years and was the first country to elect a female president in 2018.

It has had a pioneering gender-equal pay law that puts the onus on employers to prove they are paying the same wages to men and women since 2018 .

Iceland is not a part of the European Union but does retain close ties with the bloc – which lags some way behind. According to the European Institute for Gender Equality, women made up on average 32 percent of national parliament members across the 27 EU member states in 2020.

The Best Performers

  • Sweden

Sweden is the most progressive EU country as far as equal gender representation in politics is concerned. As many as 47 percent of all MPs in Sweden are women, as are half of its government ministers. The foreign, finance and health ministries are all run by female politicians.

Gender discrimination has been illegal in Sweden since 1980. Ever since 2006, the country has been listed as one of the top five most gender equal countries in an annual 150-country ranking produced by the World Economic Forum.

READ ALSO: No, women in Sweden don’t yet have it all 

  • Finland

Finland comes in at a close second, with 46.5 percent of parliamentary seats held by women. In 2019, Sanna Marin made global headlines after being elected as the world’s youngest serving Prime Minister. She formed a coalition government of five parties, all of which were led by women. 

In 1906, Finland became the first country in the world to extend the vote to women. It also allowed women to stand for parliament. In elections the following year, 19 women won seats. The first female president of Finland was Tarja Halonen who was elected in 2000. 

The Nordic region as a whole has the highest proportion of female parliamentarians anywhere in the world.

  • Spain

Forty-four percent of seats in the Spanish congress are held by women and all four government deputy leaders are women. One of those deputies, Nadia Calviño is also in charge of the Economy Ministry.

READ MORE: Female ministers are now the majority as Spanish PM reshuffles cabinet

Following a recent reshuffle, 54 percent of cabinet members are female meaning that Spain has one of the most gender-progressive executive branches in the world. 

The Worst Performers 

  • Hungary

Hungary has the lowest share of female politicians in the EU. Just 12 percent of MPs are women and just three out of 16 government ministers are women, who weren’t even given full voting rights until 1945. 

The right-wing Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán, espouses a particularly macho brand of politics and mainstream political discourse in Hungary tends to confine women to the conservative role of child-bearing houseworkers. 

  • Romania 

The second-worst performer in the EU is Romania, where a mere 19 percent of parliamentarians are female.

The country was led by a female Prime Minister, Viorica Dancila, in 2018-19 but she ultimately stood down following a vote of no confidence. Some analysts claim she was used as a puppet by Liviu Dragnea, the former head of the socialist party who was banned from taking the position himself after being convicted of election rigging. 

  • Czech Republic

The Czech Republic also has a pretty dismal female representation in parliament. Twenty-three percent of Czech MPs are women. This number has been slowly creeping up – but from a very low bar. In the government formed after elections in 2010 for example, there was not a single female minister. 

The in-betweens 

So where do other European countries lie? 

Only 31.4 percent of MPs are female in Germany but that of course is susceptible to change with upcoming elections. Austria fares much better with 39.8 percent female representation in parliament. 

In Italy, 35.6 percent of MPs are female. In France this figure jumps to 38.6 percent. Denmark and Norway, true to Nordic form, hover at around 40 percent, while the Netherlands sits at 33 percent. 

For a full list of European gender statistics, click here

    Member comments

    1. Funnily, after a recount in one constituency, this is no longer true. The number of seats held by each party stays the same but a woman drops out for each of 3 parties and a man takes their place. Its now, quite arbitrarily, 33 men to 30 women, the opposite of what it was this morning. 2 other parties exchange one man for another. The whole thing is bizzarre.

      In glorious Icelandic:

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    This is Russia’s war, but we Europeans need to learn fast from our mistakes

    For those of us living in Europe now, this is a scary and dangerous time, writes The Local's James Savage. The threat from Russia leaves European leaders with no easy choices, but peace and democracy in Europe depend on what they do next.

    This is Russia’s war, but we Europeans need to learn fast from our mistakes

    The Russian army is invading Ukraine, putting an official stamp on a conflict that its President Vladimir Putin started when unmarked troops entered Crimea and Donbas in 2014. The consequences for Europe are potentially devastating.

    In a bizarre and sinister speech televised this week, Putin denied Ukraine was ever a real country, falsely claiming it as “historically Russian land” that had been stolen from the Russian empire. Meanwhile, the enormous Russian military buildup in Belarus seems to have snuffed out any hope of real Belorussian independence for the foreseeable future. 

    These are not faraway countries about which we know little. For Germans, Scandinavians and Austrians, these are our near-neighbours. Ukraine is part of the wider European community, many of us have friends there. Their previously comfortable, normal lives are now threatened by Putin’s self-indulgent fantasies about Russia’s position in the world.

    From my vantage point in Sweden, Ukraine, Belarus and Russia can often feel like another world, but as the crow flies, the naval port of Karlskrona in southern Sweden is closer to Belarus than to Sundsvall in central Sweden. The highly-militarised Russian exclave of Kaliningrad is closer still.

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    Ukraine and Sweden have deep historic and cultural ties; there have even been small Swedish-speaking communities in Ukraine since the 18th century. For Germany, Poland, Austria and other central European countries, bonds across borders broken by the Cold War have become strong since the collapse of communism.

    Nobody knows what Putin will do next if he successfully occupies Ukraine, but he has been opining constantly about the ‘geopolitical catastrophe’ of the collapse of the Soviet empire. This is bad news for three former Soviet republics, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, once subjugated by Moscow but now part of the EU and Nato. They are modern, sophisticated countries, which identify far more with the Nordic countries than their former Russian occupiers.

    Any attempt by Putin to invade the Baltic states should trigger Nato’s Article 5, meaning an attack on one member is an attack on all. Some military experts warn that if Putin decides to attack these countries, he might first occupy the strategically-placed Swedish island of Gotland, a claim that was illustrated by Russian military exercises in 2013, when according to Nato it simulated a nuclear attack against Sweden.

    Russia’s aggression has led to calls for Sweden to join Nato, something that would give the country protection, but would also draw unwelcome attention from Moscow. A poll in January showed support for joining was at 35 percent, higher than support for staying out. But many Swedes, especially among the ruling Social Democrats, have long opposed Nato membership, partly out of a strategic calculation that it would put Sweden at greater risk, partly out of knee-jerk anti-Americanism, and partly because they have talked themselves into a belief that someone would always come to their aid if attacked. So far, Sweden’s government is affirming that it will stay out of Nato, but Ukraine’s experience might at least lead some Swedes to review their support for that stance.

    Calls for joining Nato have also been growing louder in Finland, as alarm grew over Putin’s aggression. This is understandable, given that Putin has also lamented Russia’s pre-Soviet territorial losses, which could be read to include Finland, which became independent in 1917.

    What is happening now has been predicted by some experts for years. Russia spent most of the past decade slicing off bits of neighbouring countries, in Moldova, in Georgia and in Ukraine. It was never inconceivable that he would go further. But the west, after imposing some mild sanctions, mostly turned away and hoped that Putin would stop there, despite continued hostile Russian military exercises and bellicose rhetoric from the president. 

    Former politicians including former German chancellor Gerhard Schröder and disgraced former French Prime Minister François Fillon, took Putin’s rouble and became his mouthpieces in the west. Even today, Fillon was blaming Nato expansion for Russia’s aggression. Germany naïvely let itself become dependent on Russian gas. Britain let dirty Russian money pour into London, its political parties and its tax-haven colonies around the world, even as Russian agents murdered British citizens on British soil. We all let Russian propaganda channels pollute our airwaves. As recently as yesterday, Britain’s Guardian was embedding tweets, uncommented, from Russian propaganda outlet Ruptly. The tweet itself was innocuous, but the source was anything but.

    Russia also got away with direct interference in democratic processes in elections in France, the US and many other places, and there are well-founded reasons to believe it also interfered with the Brexit referendum in the UK. People who raised the alarm were dismissed as paranoid or Russophobic. 

    For those of us living in Europe now, these are scary times. We have no easy choices. But we have tried appeasement, we have let our politics be corrupted by Russian money, we have neglected our defences, and we have been slow to tackle Russian propaganda. We need to tackle all these issues now, as though peace and democracy in Europe depended on it. Because they do. 

    James Savage is Publisher of The Local Europe