Women in Parliament and Women in Policing: A Comparative Analysis

February 21, 2021

By Lucy Hall

From the onset of the 21st Century, there has been a significant shift in female representation in police forces and parliaments globally. This shift has seen an increase in the number of women applying for and remaining in policing and government. For instance, the number of women in parliaments on a global scale has increased by more than 50 percent in the last 25 years.[1] In 1995, women across the world held only 11.3 percent of seats in parliament, compared to almost 25 percent in 2020.[2] While the number of women in parliament has increased considerably, the global percentage of women in the police remains at only 15.4 percent.[3] Consequently, despite important steps forward to increase female representation, women are considerably underrepresented in policing and parliament when compared to men.

Percentage of Women in Parliament and the Police Force by Region


After reviewing the above data, it is apparent that a considerable disparity exists in many countries across the world. Notably, there is a stark difference between the percentage of women in parliament compared to policing in countries such as Denmark, France, Finland and Portugal. In each of these countries, a greater than expected difference is found, with more women represented in parliament than the policing sector. In France, for instance – regardless of having legally enshrined gender equality in places of paid work – women in the nation are largely under represented in a number of sectors: 19.03% for policing and 30% for research and development.[5] Moreover, in Italy less than half of working-age women are employed, demonstrated in the 7.13% of female police personnel. In contrast,nations such as Latvia and Lithuania represent a closer number of women in parliament and policing.  

In Lithuania 27% of parliamentary positions are held by women and 36.12% of the police force are female.[6] The comparatively higher number of women in parliament and policing may be attributed, in part, to the adoption of the National Programme on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men 2015–2021. This Programme has been designed, among other aims, to ensure Lithuanian compliance with European Union and international obligations to promote equal opportunities for women and gender balance in decision-making.[7]  

Mexico has one of the highest percentages of women in the government sector, with  49 percent female representation; in 2018 the United Nations congratulated Mexico's historic achievements in working towards gender parity in Congress, with Mexico ranking in the top five countries globally for female representation in parliament.[8] However, despite the number of women in the Mexican police seeing a notable increase, with a rise from 18,400 female personnel in 2015 to 19,000by 2016, the overall percentage remains considerably low at 13.56 percent.[9]

It is important to note that this data is not exhaustive, as some statistics on certain nations have not been made publicly accessible or have not been collected. Nonetheless, it is evident in the data collated that there is a higher percentage of women in parliament than in the police force inmost regions. So, why are more women elected to parliament as opposed to recruited into policing?

Women in Parliament Compared to Policing

Greater female representation in parliamentary positions maybe a result of electoral quotas. Electoral quotas have been found to have greatly contributed to the number of women in parliament on a global scale.[10] Before 1995, only Argentina and Nepal had implemented gender quotas for parliamentarians.[11] Now, 81 countries across all regions of the world have legislated quotas.[12] These quotas have thus become a widely recognised tool to ensure diversity in government, underpinned by the principal of gender equality set out in both The Convention of the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly, and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action adopted by the UN in 1995.[13] With CEDAW and the Beijing Declaration establishing international norms of gender equality, the argument that ‘political participation’ is a human right has made its way to the forefront of political debates.[14] However, in policing, although quotas do exist, a global consensus on quotas has not been met, which may be a contributing factor to limited representation.

Albania, India and Sierra Leone are examples of countries that have gender quotas for the police.[15] In Australia there have been calls from the former Police Commissioner, Christine Nixon, to implement quotas in the police force – to no effect.[16] The push back against quotas in the police, specifically in the Australian context, arose due to concerns of discrimination against men and the dropping of standards of recruits to fill the quota.[17] However, as seen in parliaments, these concerns are unlikely to hold true. Furthermore, research has argued that gender quotas can allow for the police to become a more representative and respectful service.[18]

Why Should Women be Equally Represented?


Women in parliament have made strides towards fostering cooperation between political parties, democratic gains, sustainability, and addressing the needs of the civilian populace.[19] Female parliamentarians have also afforded attention to policies which have previously been paid limited attention or left overlooked in some countries.[20] For instance, female parliamentarians in America have focused on what has often been deemed as “women’s issues”, such as education,health and child-care.[21] By focusing on these policy areas, women have made progress towards equitable policy prioritisation, advancing political focus on policies which aid and enrich the lives of all people.[22]


Women need equal representation in every nation’s police force for a plethora of reasons. One particular and overarching reason is the integration of a gender perspective, in which women’s lived experiences play a crucial role.[23] Women, girls, men, boys and non-binary people all encounter different security and safety concerns. Men, for example, face higher rates of gang violence, whereas women are more likely to experience different forms of harassment and suffer more from domestic violence.[24] Because of this, it is imperative that the police be representative of society to understand the unique concerns faced by all members of the community it seeks to protect.

Increasing Representation: The Future of Women in Parliament and Policing

To increase female representation in governments and police forces around the world, gendered stereotypes, beliefs, and assumptions limiting female participation must be addressed through cultural and behavioural change.[25] Further, integrating increased flexibility of the workforceis fundamental to increasing representation. Despite some important steps being taken, such as cultural and behavioural reviews of the police, and ‘family-friendly’ adjustments in some governments, more must be done.[26] We will continue to advocate for more countries' commitment to achieving this aim, along with the promotion of full participation and leadership of women across all policing and government positions.



[1] Inter-ParliamentaryUnion 2020, ‘Women in parliament: 1995-2020’.

[2] Ibid.

[3] 50X50 Movement 2020,‘Data Brief: Toward gender parity in police forces’,https://www.50x50movement.org/article/data-brief-toward-gender-parity-police-forces/

[4] Police - Algeria, Albania,Barbados, Belgium, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Chile,, Czech Republic, Denmark,El Salvador, Finland, France, Guyana, Honduras, Italy, Kazakhstan, Latvia,Lithuania, Mexico, Montenegro, Paraguay, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Serbia,Trinidad & Tobago, (https://www.osce.org/files/f/documents/e/9/442519.pdf);Australia (https://theconversation.com/w9omen-have-made-many-inroads-in-policing-but-barriers-remain-to-achieving-gender-equity-123082); Canada (https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/191003/dq191003a-eng.htm);Brunei, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, The Philippines, Vietnam(https://www.unodc.org/documents/southeastasiaandpacific//Publications/2020/women_in_law_enforcement_in_the_asean_region_full.pdf);  Liberia (https://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2016/4/women-police-climb-the-ranks-across-africa);United States of America (https://www.ojp.gov/pdffiles1/nij/252963.pdf); Parliaments:Inter-Parliamentary Union 2020, ‘Women in parliament: 1995-2020’; United Kingdom (https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/sn01250/).

[5]Denney, L 2019, Gender and Security Toolkit, https://www.osce.org/files/f/documents/e/9/442519.pdf; The Local 2019, The shocking figures that show the fight for women's rights in France is far from over, https://www.thelocal.fr/20190308/equality-remains-elusive-in-france-on-internationals-womens-day-2019

[6]  Denney, L 2019, Gender and Security Toolkit, https://www.osce.org/files/f/documents/e/9/442519.pdf;Lapinske,L 2020, ‘Women leadership in politics: Lithuanian parliamentary elections2020’,https://gender-spear.eu/blog/post/41/women-leadership-in-politics-lithuanian-parliamentary-elections-2020

[7]European Institute for Gender Equality, 2021,https://eige.europa.eu/gender-mainstreaming/countries/lithuania

[8] UN Women 2018, Statement: UN Women applauds historic advances towards genderparity in the Mexican Congress,https://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2018/7/statement-ed-phumzile-womens-political-participation-mexico

[9]Garcia, M 2018, https://globalpressjournal.com/americas/mexico/women-join-mexico-citys-police-force/;Denny, L 2019, https://www.osce.org/files/f/documents/e/9/442519.pdf.

[10] Inter-Parliamentary Union 2020, ‘Women in parliament: 1995-2020’.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] McCann, J 2013,‘Electoral quotas for women: an international overview’,https://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/pubs/rp/rp1314/ElectoralQuotas#_Toc372193111

[14] Ibid.

[15] Inter-Parliamentary Union 2020, ‘Women in parliament: 1995-2020’.

[16] Andersen, B 2016,‘Former chief commissioner Christine Nixon calls for gender quotas in policeforce’,https://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-10-06/christine-nixon-calls-for-gender-quotas-in-the-police-force/7910974

[17] Ibid; Vujkovic, M 2019,‘From the first female uniformed police officer to the first femalecommissioner’,https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-05-27/women-in-queensland-police-service/11062956

[18] Denny, L 2019, ‘Genderand Security Toolkit: Policing and Gender’, https://www.osce.org/files/f/documents/e/9/442519.pdf

[19] Volen, C, Wiseman, AE& Wittner DE 2010, ‘The Legislative effectiveness of Women in Congress’, Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Denny, L 2019, ‘Gender and Security Toolkit: Policing and Gender’,https://www.osce.org/files/f/documents/e/9/442519.pdf

[24] Ibid.

[25] Churchill, B 2019,‘Australia can do more to attract and keep women in parliament – here are some ideas’, The Conversation, https://theconversation.com/australia-can-do-more-to-attract-and-keep-women-in-parliament-here-are-some-ideas-110174

[26] NSW Government n.d.,‘Women in Policing: a career for women in the NSW police force’,https://www.police.nsw.gov.au/recruitment/the_career/diversity/women_in_policing;Churchill, B 2019, ‘Australia can do more to attract and keep women in parliament – here are some ideas’, TheConversation,https://theconversation.com/australia-can-do-more-to-attract-and-keep-women-in-parliament-here-are-some-ideas-110174

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