“COVID-19 is a crisis with a woman’s face… The damage is incalculable and will resound down the decades, into future generations. Now is the time to change course. Women’s equal participation is the game-changer we need.” Antonio Guterres, United Nations Secretary-General, opening remarks at CSW 65
The gender gap in politics remains the largest gender gap across sectors. In 2022, women are still marginalized and unfairly represented at all levels of government globally, making up 36% of local deliberative bodies and 26.1% of national parliaments. Only 8.3% of Heads of Government and 7.2% of Heads of State are women.
Although increased women’s participation in decision-making leads to more inclusive policies and service delivery, achieving parity remains a challenge as persisting barriers hinder women’s equal access and participation in public life, including the lack of financial resources and access to networks, discriminatory laws and institutions, and gender-based violence. At the current rate of progress, the World Economic Forum estimates that gender parity in politics will not be attained before the year 2166.
Disasters and crises often exacerbate existing inequalities, and the COVID-19 pandemic is no exception. While an estimated 80 countries and territories postponed national and local elections, at least 158 held elections despite COVID-19 related concerns and restrictions. In 2020 and 2021, it is estimated that voter turnout declined in 66% of countries. Similarly, civic and democratic spaces have shrunk: 155 countries introduced limitations on the freedom of assembly, which in many cases were supplemented by additional restrictions on civil and political rights; and 60 countries targeted freedom of expression.
Many national parliaments reconfigured or reduced their activities by introducing remote and hybrid plenary sessions, committee meetings, voting, government oversight, and public engagement. While remote arrangements can break down some of the practical barriers to in-person participation for women with domestic care responsibilities and women with disabilities for instance, virtual participation can disadvantage women as it could increase their exposure to domestic violence and reinforce domestic gendered roles and expectations.
Additionally, parliaments with virtual participation may reinforce political power imbalances, favoring those physically present in meetings – more likely to be men – and reducing the visibility and impact of remote participants – more likely to be women. Similarly, restrictions on in-person political campaigning activities can widen the gap between elite and nonelite women candidates, favoring those with existing networks, resources, and name recognition.
Virtual participation and internet use are also associated with increased exposure to online abuse and violence against women in politics, which can discourage women from engaging in public debates and voicing their political opinions and aspirations publicly. Reports in 2020 show that women in politics were targeted by intense online abuse and harassment during their mandate as well as during electoral campaigns and elections.
Although there are many women leaders receiving global praise for their crisis-management performance in the past two years, women in most contexts continue to be largely left out. Women elected officials, women candidates, and women voters are particularly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and its backsliding effects that further exacerbate inequalities and reinforce barriers.
This e-Discussion seeks to raise awareness and collect experiences, knowledge, and good practices on women’s political participation in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as explore how to best mitigate the crisis’ effects on women voters, women candidates, and women elected officials to ensure women’s full and equal political participation at all levels of public decision-making processes.
Electoral management bodies, women and men in politics, political party leaders and members, civil society and women’s rights activists, practitioners, and researchers are invited to join this e-Discussion from 21 March to 11 April 2022 by answering the below questions. The submissions will contribute to the elaboration of a report that will augment the knowledge base available on the topic.
- How did COVID-19 related restrictions affect the turnout of women voters in local and national elections in your country/region? What are the best measures to ensure greater women voters’ turnout in the future?
- How did COVID-19 related restrictions affect women’s ability to run for office and get elected at the local and national levels in your country/region? What can electoral management bodies, political parties, lawmakers, and governments do to make sure women have equal access to elected positions?
- What is the gender impact of virtual parliamentary work and participation? Have remote parliamentary arrangements affected your parliament’s gender-sensitivity and diversity?
Has violence against women in politics, including online harassment and abuse, increased in the last two years in your country/region? If so, please provide details and concrete suggestions to make politics a safe space for women.
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 Average as of 1 March 2022 based on UN Women calculations.
 Data valid as of 1 February 2022.