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The Inter-Parliamentary Union revealed on Thursday that women only account for around 18 per cent of the seats in parliaments worldwide.

In its annual report card, the group bemoaned ‘slow progress’ in achieving gender equality in world legislatures.

During 2008, parliamentary elections took place in 54 countries and women’s representation increased to 18.3 per cent – up from 17.7 per cent last year and 11.3 per cent in 1995.

The UN economic and social council had set a target of having a minimum of 30 per cent women MPs in all parliaments by 1995.

But, according to the IPU, just 15 per cent of parliamentary chambers reached the 30 per cent goal for the first time in 2008.

Forty per cent of those chambers are in Europe, 33 per cent in Africa and 23 per cent in Latin America.

At the other end of the spectrum, 25 per cent of parliamentary chambers have less than 10 per cent women members and Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Micronesia have never had a woman parliamentarian.

Latin American women registered ‘some impressive gains,’ taking a 26.5 per cent share of seats in the 12 chambers that were renewed, largely due to the success of women candidates in Cuba, Belize and Grenada.

In the US, both houses of Congress elected their highest proportions of women members – 17 per cent in each chamber – but that still ranks the US below the global average.

With Sweden, Finland and the Netherlands ranked in the top five countries for women in parliament, Europe sustained its ‘consistent pace of progress,’ making gains in Belarus, Spain, Macedonia, Monaco and France’s upper house, but there were drops in women’s representation in Romania, Malta and Serbia.

The IPU said that African countries continued to make strides in 2008, with Angola electing more than 37 per cent of women members in its first election since 1992.

It was joined by other southern African countries including Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Tanzania which all have parliaments containing more than 25 per cent women members.

Asia registered the slowest rate of progress in terms of women’s access to parliament over the past 15 years, reaching a regional average of 17.8 per cent.

The IPU cited significant gains in Nepal, where women took 32.8 per cent of the seats, a contrast to Iran, where women won just 2.8 per cent of seats.

In the Arab world, women took just over 9 per cent of seats.

Philippines senator Pia Cayetano, who is the president of the IPU committee of women parliamentarians, stressed that, on average, fewer than one in five legislators is a woman.

‘We still feel that progress is slow,’ Ms Cayetano said.

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