Women's Participation in Southeast Asia Parliaments

Women's Participation in Southeast Asia Parliaments

ASEAN countries are still struggling with gender representation in their parliaments and legislative bodies, according to a report from the Global Data on National Parliaments on IPU Parline  portal. The percentage of women holding seats in these bodies in countries like Indonesia, Singapore, the Philippines, Vietnam, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Cambodia, Thailand, and Timor Leste is still below 50%.  The highest representation is in Timor-Leste at 40%, followed by Singapore at 29.13% and the Philippines at 27.3%. Then, Laos and Vietnam with 22% and 30% respectively. Indonesia has a long way to go, with only 21.5% representation. 

The gender quota system is a widely used strategy to achieve gender balance in government institutions. This system involves allocating a specific number or percentage of positions to a particular gender. Some countries in Europe have implemented candidate quotas that regulate the gender composition of candidate lists in elections. On the other hand, in Southeast Asia, Timor-Leste has enacted reserved seats, which ensure a certain number or percentage of seats are reserved for female members through special electoral procedures. 

Meanwhile, party quotas or voluntary party quotas are adopted by individual political parties in some countries. These quotas are typically enshrined in party statutes and rules. In addition, some countries are also implementing gender-neutral quotas, which stipulate that neither gender should occupy more than a given percentage of seats. This type of quota may also require alternating female and male candidates on candidate lists.

The Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) is an international treaty created by the United Nations (UN) with the objective of eradicating discrimination against countries that have adopted national gender equality laws. The treaty covers various fields including the economic, social, cultural, civil, and most importantly, political spheres. Affirmative action policies as a manifestation of gender equality in parliaments have been implemented among Southeast Asian countries. 

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, specifically Goal No. 5 which aims to attain Gender Equality, aims to ensure women's complete and successful engagement and fair chances for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic, and public spheres. But no country in Southeast Asia has yet reached 50% female representation in parliament. Only Timor-Leste comes close with a percentage of around 40%.

Several countries in Southeast Asia have implemented women's quota policies in parliament to increase women's representation, such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, and Vietnam. However, the implementation of women's quotas in parliament is still colored by various obstacles, such as patriarchal culture and political systems that still prioritize men's interest.

Strong representation of women in parliament is needed to ensure that public policies are made that champion women's rights. If the number of women representatives is small, then women's interests will be neglected. Unfortunately, women are often ignored in the policy-making process, even though they have specific problems that are different from the interests of men. This happens because there is still a strong patriarchal culture, which causes gender inequality, disparity and injustice that affects all aspects of human life.


IPU Parline: Global Data on National Parliaments. (2022). Compare Data on Parliaments: Southeast Asia

Republic of The Philippines: Philippine Commission on Women. (2020). Women’s Political Participation and Representation

Arawi, Fadia Amelia, Haura Atthahara. (2016). Perbandingan Representasi Perempuan di Parlemen Indonesia dan Filipina. Politeia: Jurnal Ilmu Politik, vo. 4, no, 2, p. 76

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