House of Commons Library

Women in Parliament and Government

Published Friday, July 20, 2018

A record 208 women MPs were elected to the House of Commons at General Election 2017, a record high of 32%. As of January 2018 there are 206 female peers, making up 26% of Members of the House of Lords. There are currently six women in Cabinet including the Prime Ministers, 26% of the total 23 permanent Cabinet posts.

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208 female MPs were elected during the 2017 General Election – a record high and 32% of all MPs. This is up from 191 in the 2015 election and the highest proportion of any UK election to date.[1] There are 206 female peers, making up 26% of Members of the House of Lords.[2]

Devolved Legislatures and UK MEPs

Just over one-third (36%) of members in the Scottish Parliament are women, compared to just over two-fifths (42%) of members of National Assembly for Wales and 30% of Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly. Following the 2014 European Parliament elections, 41% of UK MEPs are women.

Local Government councillors

32% of local authority councillors in England are women, as of 2013. In Scotland, 24% of councillors are women. Women hold 26% of council seats in Wales. In Northern Ireland 25% of councillors are women.

Women MPs since 1918

Since 1918, 489 women have been elected as Members of the House of Commons.[3] In 1918 Constance Markievicz became the first women to be elected as an MP though, elected for Sinn Féin, she did not take her seat. Nancy Astor was the first women to take a seat in the House of Commons, in 1919. The total number of women to have been elected to the House since 1918 has now surpassed the current number of men sitting in the House of Commons, 442.

Women ministers

Currently there are six women in the Cabinet (including the Prime Minister) which is 26% of 23 Cabinet posts (not including those who “also attend Cabinet”).[4]

Margaret Bondfield was the first ever woman appointed to Cabinet, in 1929; Margaret Thatcher became the UK’s first woman Prime Minister in 1979, and Theresa May the second in 2016.

International comparisons

Globally, the UK’s 30% ratio for women in the House of Commons puts it 38th in ranked list. Rwanda is first, followed by Bolivia, Cuba and the Seychelles. Five countries in the ranking have no women in their lower or single house, while 30 have fewer than 10%.

Europe has the highest average percentage of women in lower houses of parliament (28%), whereas Oceania has the lowest, with an average 11% of seats occupied by women. Of countries with bicameral parliaments, those in Africa, North America and Oceania have a higher average percentage of women in the upper house, whereas Europe and South America have a higher average percentage of women in the lower house

Currently a woman holds the post of president or prime minister in 16 countries. This is 9% of the 193 countries who are currently members of the United Nations.

At 1 January 2017, 53 women presided over one of the 193 Houses of Parliament, 77 of which are bicameral, which means that women occupy 19.1% of the posts of Presiding Officers of Parliament or of one of its Houses.


[1] House of Commons Library; General Election 2017 (research briefing, 8 September 2017); section 3.4

[2] UK Parliament; Members of the House of Lords webpage (accessed 6 February 2018)

[3] House of Commons Library; Women Members of Parliament: Background Paper (18 January 2018)

[4] GOV.UK; Ministers webpage (accessed 6 February 2018)


Commons Briefing papers SN01250

Authors: Richard Keen; Richard Cracknell

Topics: Elections, Equality, House of Commons, House of Lords, Members of Parliament, Members of the Lords, Ministers, Parliament

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