International Women’s Day at the Status of Female Politicians

Marine LePen, Leader of the French National Front.

Marine LePen, Leader of the French National Front.

Yesterday marked the 100th annual International Women’s Day. There was much coverage of the importance of the day in the blogosphere, including some very good coverage by the GuardianOxfam’s Duncan Green  and lots of discussion of the ongoing pay gap between men and women globally.

But two sites really stood out to me. First, the Women in World Parliaments website (maintained by the Inter-Parliamentary Union) offered some updated data on the status of female representation globally. It notes that regionally, the Nordic countries lead the world in equality of representation for women, with the national parliaments comprised of 41.6 percent women, nearly twice the average the next closest region (the Americas at 22.6%), and nearly four times as high as the last-placed region (Arab States, at 11.7%). The comparative data at the national level is also very interesting. Looking only at the lower houses, we find that women are best-represented in Rwanda, with 56.3 percent of the lower house comprised of women. The top ten (with some interesting surprises) are as follows:

  1. Rwanda (56.3%)
  2. Sweden (45.0%)
  3. South Africa (44.5%)
  4. Cuba (43.2%)
  5. Iceland (42.9%)
  6. The Netherlands (40.7%)
  7. Finland (40.0%)
  8. Norway (39.6%)
  9. Belgium (39.3%)
  10. Mozambique (39.2%) 

Rounding out the bottom, ten states tied for last place, with no women in the national parliaments: Belize, Micronesia, Nauru, Oman, Palau, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the Solomon Islands, Tonga, and Tuvalu.

The second very interesting coverage was offered by Gideon Rachman, blogging at the Financial Times. Exploring the most recent polling data from France, he notes that Marine LePen, the daughter of Jean-Marie LePen and head of the far-right National Party, appears to be polling at the top of preferred presidential candidates. In 2002, Marine LePen’s father, Jean-Marie LePen, won the first round of the French presidential ballot, only to be soundly defeated by Jacques Chirac. France’s presidential election system requires that the winner be elected with a majority of votes cast. Because multiple parties contest the election, a runoff election between the top two vote getters in the first round is the norm.

In the 2002 elections, Le Pen’s radical views placed him far outside the mainstream of the French electorate. LePen had been accused of xenophobia and anti-Semitism. During the 2002 campaign, he was dogged by statements he had previously made, including advocating the forced isolation of people infected with HIV and accusing his rival, Jacques Chirac, of being on the payroll of Jewish organizations.

As the According to Rachman, Marine LePen presents a similar far-right worldview but lacks the divisive baggage of her father. A victory in round one of the Frecnch presidential elections appears possible. However, a round two defeat to whoever is chosen to run against LePen appears equally probable, and given the current state of the French economy, it could be Socialist Martine Aubry that wins the national election. Either way, it’s a female president for France in 2012.

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