Stats & Politics: Women in Parliament

In 1917, just shy of a hundred years ago, a constitutional amendment1 gave women in the Netherlands the right to run for office. A year later, Suze Groeneweg was the first woman to be elected as a House representative2The purpose of this post is to inform on the evolution of female participation in terms of simple descriptive statistics. With national elections coming up in March 2017, it will be interesting to see how these trends evolve.

Between 1918 and 2016, 475 women served as elected members of the Dutch parliament. Overall, that adds up to 16% since the introduction of women’s passive voting rights. In the House of Representatives, 21% of elected members since 1918 are women (339 women and 1278 men), and in the Senate 16% (136 women and 699 men). However, the real rise came in the mid 1960s. For instance, before 1965, women made up a mere 5% of all elected members of parliament; bewteen 1965 and 2016, this is 26%. And, when considering only the past twenty years this number rises even further, to 35%.

Members of parliament
When looking at the number of women in the House of Representatives and the Senate on a yearly basis, there is a notably increase that originates in the early 1970s (Figure 1). In 2016, 39% of representatives in the House are women. The highest ever percentage reached was 41% in 2008 (Cabinet – Balkenende IV) and then in 2010 and 2011 (Cabinet – Rutte I). In 2016, 35% of senators are women, which is the highest percentage recorded to date.

Figure 1 – Percentage of women in parliament, 1918 – 2016

Before national elections, political parties present their lists of candidates. For the last national election in 2012, 180 women and 351 men were candidates for the eleven parties elected to the House of Representatives (Figure 2). Only the PvdD (Animal Welfare Party) and the PvdA (Labour Party) ensured at least equal representation, with women being slightly overrepresented in the former at 56%. The latter has stated an explicit objective in ensuring equal numbers of male and female candidates (at exactly 50%). The SGP (Reformed Party) is the only party without female candidates. Up to 2012, their party policies prohibited female members from being listed as candidates in any political election3. Seeing as this policy was changed three years ago, we might see the first female SGP candidate in 2017 (at the time of writing the SGP has yet to publish their list of candidates).

Figure 2 – Male and female candidates for the 2012 election by party

Cabinet positions
The cabinet consists of ministers and their undersecretaries (Figure 3). Anna de Waal became the first woman to hold a cabinet position in 1953 as Undersecretary of Education (Cabinet – Drees II)4. Three years later, Marga Klompé became the first female minister5. In 1956 she was appointed Minister of Social Work (Cabinet – Drees III). Since 1953, a total of 309 men held cabinet positions, against 64 women (17%).

Again, the number of female undersecretaries and ministers remained relatively low until the early 1970s. To date the 50% bar was cleared once for undersecretaries in 2007 (Cabinet – Balkenende IV). The highest percentage of female ministers in one cabinet is 29% (Cabinet – Kok I). Combined, the highest level reached was 36% in 2007 (Cabinet – Balkenende IV). The number of women in cabinet positions has increased since Anna de Waal was  appointed, and progress is still being made (Figure 3). There was another first in 2012, when Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert became the first female Minister of Defence6. However,women still seem underrepresented in the legislative branch of government, and succeeding cabinets still have the opportunity to appoint the first female Minister of Finance, the first female Minister of Foreign Affairs, and the first female Prime-Minister.

kabinet 3.png
Figure 3 – Percentage of women in cabinet positions, 1945 – 2016


[1] PDC (n.d.). Eerste Afdeeling. Van de zamenstelling der Staten-Generaal: 80. Kiesregt. Accessed October 2016, available online.

[2] Tweede Kamer der Staten-Generaal (n.d.). De invoering van het vrouwenkiesrecht. Accessed October 2016, available online.

[3] Parlement & Politiek (2012). Europees Hof voor de Rechten van de Mens: SGP moet vrouwen toelaten op lijst. Accessed October 2016, available online.

[4] Parlement & Politiek (n.d.). Dr. A. (Anna) de Waal. Accessed October 2016, available online.

[5] Parlement & Politiek (n.d.). Dr. M.A.M. (Marga) Klompé. Accessed October 2016, available online.

[6] Rijksoverheid (n.d.). Kabinetten sinds 1945. Accessed October 2016, available online.

Figures 1-3 as well as data in-text is – unless staten otherwise – based on an original dataset that was composed using online sources. Data on members of House of Representatives and the Senate between 1918 and 2016 was found on Parlement & Politiek, as was data on 2012 national election candidates. Additional information about cabinet positions was found on the official website for the Dutch Government. The dataset was put together by extracting this data both manually, and programmatically using a simple Python scraper.

Image credit

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