2024 elections: Where are the women?
Elections take place in at least 64 countries this year, which equates to almost half (49%) of the world’s population going to the polls.
Crucially, a number of these elections could decide the democratic fate of their nation, potentially altering global politics for decades ahead.
However, women continue to be underrepresented at the highest level of politics. In 2023 alone Finland’s Sanna Marin, New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern and Scotland’s Nicola Sturgeon stepped down, leaving just 15 countries with a woman as head of state according to UN Women. Additionally, 2024 will be the final year in office for a number of influential female leaders.
We take a look at 10 elections taking place this year that will have a significant impact on the world and the gender gap in politics.
Former prime minister Imran Khan is attempting to run in Pakistan’s February election from prison, after being jailed on corruption charges. Following efforts to ban his name from the media, he has gone so far as using AI to speak to supporters. Meanwhile, Nawaz Sharif is campaigning for a fourth run as prime minister after having a conviction for corruption overturned.
Pakistan’s elections suffer from a huge gender voting gap. Past elections have seen political parties collude to bar women from voting, even imposing large fines for anyone breaking their agreement. Currently ten million more men than women are registered to vote.
The most obvious impact of women being unable to vote is their underrepresentation in policy-making, leading to laws that don’t address the needs of half the population. This includes tackling gender-based violence and educational needs, in a deeply patriarchal country where women are deprived of the right to education, economic opportunities and mobility, as well as facing forced marriages, violence and sexual harassment.
India’s general elections are taking place between April and May, where 543 members will be elected to the Lok Sabha, the lower house of India’s parliament. It is widely predicted that Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) will win a third term — alarming news for the country’s Muslim population due to the BJP’s Hindu-nationalist agenda.
In the 2022 assembly elections the BJP swept to victory in India’s most populous states, capitalising on food and cash handouts to sway voters. Researcher Guni Vats explains that this tactic won over many female voters: “Women voted for the BJP on the basis of the free rations scheme. In this election, BJP connected with women.”
“Women are outnumbering male voters. They are the silent voters, and are becoming a very important electoral base. But because we are not talking about our needs, our representation falls into the same stereotypes: political parties take it for granted that what we want is a free bicycle or scooter, or we just want some amount of money to raise our living standards.”
Although the leader of the Republican party is yet to be confirmed, Donald Trump’s resounding success at the recent Iowa caucus shows that despite his many legal battles support for him is as strong as it has ever been. Ron de Santis’ decision to drop out and endorse Trump leaves Nikki Haley as the other possible contender, however so far she has lagged behind in the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries.
With Joe Biden running again for the Democrats, a second Biden-Trump showdown is highly likely. A Trump win would mean picking up where his administration left off in terms of anti-immigration policies and reshaping federal courts; his influence on the Supreme Court already altering the lives of millions of US women.
It would also spell the end of the gains Biden’s government has made in appointing women, Indigenous and LGBTQ representatives.
Read more: Women make history at US 2020 election
In 2020, president Vladimir Putin amended an article of the Russian constitution that didn’t allow the same person to hold the position of the presidency for more than two terms in a row. As a result Putin is running again this year, and experts predict he will win in an election process that can barely pass for democratic.
With the war in Ukraine raging on, for the first time this year the presidential contest will also take place in Russian-occupied territories, a clear sign of Putin’s continuing campaign to annex former Soviet regions. Ukrainian elections are also due to take place in March, however this may not happen due to the war.
With another potential six years of Putin in power looming, an end to the Ukrainian conflict — which has claimed the lives of 10,000 Ukrainian civilians so far — looks improbable in the near future. With unfettered power, Putin has carte blanche to continue persecuting anti-war protesters, human rights defenders and the LGBTQ community.
Mexico will get its first female president this year, as the two leading candidates are Claudia Sheinbaum, former Mexico City Mayor who is currently the favourite contender, and Senator Xóchitl Gálvez. Sheinbaum is the chosen successor of current president Manuel Andrés López Obrador.
While Gálvez is the candidate of the opposition center-right coalition, both have progressive stances on abortion, women’s rights, and the treatment of minorities. In a country marred by its high number of femicides, having a female head of state would be a groundbreaking chapter in Mexico’s history.
With more than 400 million people in 27 countries eligible to pick their representatives in the European Parliament, world leaders will be closely watching how the European Union’s elections in June unfold.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is not running as an MEP, but is expected to get a second term as head of the Commission.
The vote will also reveal who comes on top in the ongoing tug of war between anti-EU populists and Eurocentric politicians, given that there are now far-right governments established in Italy, the Netherlands, Hungary and Poland. With the added strong presence of the far right in Spain and France, many predict that the European Parliament will shift to the right.
MEPs face a number of key issues this year, including decisions on mobile phone roaming charges, online data privacy, the war in Ukraine, Israel’s war in Palestine, the green transition and multiple economic challenges.
Read more: EU is divided over legal definition of rape
UK politics have been turbulent in recent years, with Brexit splitting the country and fracturing its position on the world stage, a series of unelected leaders and the country’s shortest ever premiership thanks to Liz Truss, who was in office for the grand total of 44 days.
It is widely believed that Keir Starmer will win the 2024 election, ending a 14-year spell of conservative rule that has seen huge rises in poverty, homelessness and repressive legislation, while a 2022 report revealed widespread abuses of power in London’s Metropolitan police force.
Read more: How UK police are failing to protect women
Venezuela faces a crucial election after years of constitutional crises. Nicolas Maduro has been in office since 2016, having assumed the role again in 2019 despite opposition leader Juan Guaidó attempting to form a government amid accusations of foreign interference.
The current opposition hopeful is Maria Corina Machado, however she is facing a 15-year ban from public office and may not be able to run. Machado’s disqualification is officially due to “administrative irregularities”, however many believe it is because of her support of US sanctions and her criticism of Maduro.
This year’s presidential elections will be the first since Kais Saied took over in a coup, subsequently re-writing the country’s constitution to give him power over the rule of law based on “Islamic objectives”.
In November 2023, engineer and executive Olfa Hamdi announced she was running against Saied as leader of the Third Republic Party. She has vowed to improve conditions for immigrants in Tunisia, boost the economy and shift the country from an autocracy to a “broad coalition ensuring a successful peaceful political transformation.”
Iran’s 2024 elections will be the first since the nationwide protests that swept across the country following the death of Mahsa Amini in 2022. Economic and social unrest have been a serious test for Iran’s ultra-conservative regime, however the 12-member Guardian Council has the power to disqualify and veto candidates. In October 2023, an editorial published in Ham Mihan said that “even if the known and famous reformists register as candidates, it is unlikely that they will be approved.”
Last year, in response to the ‘Women, Life, Freedom’ movement that emerged in the wake of Amini’s death, Iran’s parliament passed a strict bill that would see women sentenced for 10 years for failing to wear a hijab. In a surprise twist the Guardian Council voted against it. This bill, along with women’s rights generally, an economic downturn and the Israel-Hamas conflict are among the key issues concerning Iranians in the run-up to the election.
Also this year…
- In Uruguay, Carolina Cosse is a strong contender to win. The current mayor of Montevideo leads the left-wing Broad Front party and is a campaigner for women’s rights; her election would be significant for Latin America following the success of anarcho-capitalist Javier Milei in Argentina.
- Lai Ching-te has won Taiwan’s elections, which took place on January 13. He is the Democratic Progressive Party’s successor to Tsai Ing-wen, the first female president of Taiwan. Additionally Huang Jie has become Taiwan’s first openly LGBTQ+ legislator after winning her seat in Kaohsiung’s 6th District.
- Ingrida Šimonytė, Lithuania’s first female prime minister, is set to run for president in 2024.