The United States has never had more women in Congress than it does now. As of last week, when the 116th Congress was sworn in, 23.7 percent of the 535 members of Congress are women — about a quarter of the Senate and 23.4 percent of the House of Representatives.
While that's an all-time high for the United States, it's still far from representative: The U.S. Census Bureau says 51.6 percent of voting-age Americans are women. And on the world stage, many countries have much higher proportions of female lawmakers in their legislatures.
According to recent data from the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the country with the highest percentage of female lawmakers is Rwanda, where the lower house of Parliament is 61.3 percent female. It is followed by two Latin American countries: Cuba, where the lower house is 53.2 percent female and Bolivia, where it's 53.1 percent female. Mexico is next on the list, with 48.2 percent.
The United States also lags behind most other major Western democracies, including France (39.6 percent), Britain (32 percent) and Germany (30.7 percent). It would sit in 74th place in the latest IPU rankings, sandwiched between Bulgaria and Cabo Verde.
Of course, these are all countries with different political systems. Cuba and China, for example, don't meet many people's definitions of a democracy. The United States, meanwhile, is unusual in that the two chambers of Congress are roughly equal in stature (and at this point, roughly equal in gender equality).
But the United States' recent gains in female representation are small compared with those in other nations in the past decade and a half. In some of these countries, legislation was passed to encourage female parliamentarians. Rwanda, for example, implemented a constitution in 2003 that called for a 30 percent female quota in the country's legislative bodies. The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance says more than half of countries apply a gender quota to their parliaments.
Though in the United States, with Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., returning to her position as speaker of the House, the country is one of a minority of nations where women lead a legislature — according to the IPU, 81 percent of the world’s parliaments were led by a man last year.