LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The proportion of women MPs in parliaments around the world has doubled in the past 20 years, but a "significant brake" in progress in 2014 means new ways of increasing their number must be found, the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) said.
Women's average representation in parliament increased to 22.1 percent last year from 11.3 percent in 1995, when the Beijing Platform for Action on women's empowerment was adopted.
After a record 2013, which saw the average number of women MPs rise by 1.5 percentage points, 2014 saw an increase of just 0.3 percentage points - one of the lowest growth rates in the 20-year period.
"After the optimism and belief in 2013 that gender parity in parliament was within reach in a generation, the lack of significant progress in 2014 is a major blow," IPU secretary general Martin Chungong said in a statement on Thursday.
"It is a timely reminder that progress is not a given," he added. "Political action and will must remain a constant if we are to successfully tackle the gender deficit in politics."
Much of the growth in the number of women MPs is due to the use of electoral quotas in more than 120 nations, the IPU said.
In elections held without quotas in 2012, for example, women won 12 percent of the seats, compared with 24 percent in elections with legislated quotas, according to the IPU.
The slowdown in 2014 may be a sign that the effectiveness of quotas has reached its peak and that other measures are needed to complement them, the body said.
The very small increase in the overall number of women MPs last year reflected a fall in their numbers in Africa and the Pacific.
Rwanda, Andorra and Bolivia have seen the biggest increases in women MPs in the last 20 years.
In continental terms, the Americas have had the largest rise in the proportion of women MPs, followed by Europe and Africa.
The Pacific region saw the least change, behind the Arab world.
Globally, the number of male-only parliaments has halved from 10 to five.
"Although 2014 didn't deliver on the expectations of 2013, the last 20 years have made it clear that women are now partners at the political table," said Chungong.
"The challenge now is in making sure women become equal partners in how democracy is delivered," he added.
Reporting by Alex Whiting, Editing by Tim Pearce