International Women’s Day: Parliaments in Northeast Asia



Last Wednesday was International Women’s day, but better late than never. In the course of doing research on gender, my colleague Marc Noland sent me the attached data on women in Northeast Asia’s parliaments over the last 20 years, with the US thrown in for comparison. The bodies are obviously diverse, from China’s National People’s Congress—the largest parliamentary body in the world with around 3000 members—to North Korea’s rubber stamp SPA, to South Korea’s unicameral National Assembly and the bicameral US and Japanese systems.

A few things stand out. Socialist systems are often good at incorporating women by fiat. But of course the bodies don’t have a very significant role, even in China where professionalizing the NPC and giving legislators staff has long been on the wish list of reformers.

The most interesting finding is that the step-function increase in South Korea as a result of the 2004 elections was sustained in subsequent elections despite a return of the right. In that election, the newly-formed Uri party backing Roh Moo-hyun swept to a majority—the first time a center-left party had dominated the National Assembly—carrying a number of women into office. Finally, we note that the US keeps chugging along. Nonetheless it is still hovering at only 20 percent, with an almost three-to-one advantage in the Democratic party (78 Democrats and 26 Republicans in the two houses, with roughly equal shares of women now sitting in both bodies). Japan rounds out the list at the bottom with only 10 percent. Although a doubling of share from 1997, the comparison with Korea is striking. The results mirror findings from Noland, Moran, and Kotschwar’s work on gender diversity: Japan does poorly, South Korea a little better.

My humble opinion: diversity of elected and appointed officials matters for assuring representation of interests. The message of this data: work to do

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