International Women’s Day

Today, 8 March, is International Women’s Day, which has been celebrated now since 1909. So in terms of the Olympics, which nations have been most fair in promoting female participation? This is a difficult question to answer as many of the most prominent nations have competed in the Olympics for the longest time, when there were far fewer women’s events. But here are the nations that have had the highest percentage of females on their Olympic teams, overall, looking at the Summer Games only:

NOC Total Men Women Fem%%%
East Timor 5 2 3 60.0%
Bhutan 19 8 11 57.9%
Saint Kitts and Nevis 17 8 9 52.9%
China 2076 1015 1061 51.1%
Palau 18 9 9 50.0%
DPR Korea (North) 325 172 153 47.1%
Saint Lucia 17 9 8 47.1%
São Tomé and Principe 11 6 5 45.5%
Belarus 537 295 242 45.1%
Angola 148 82 66 44.6%

Among the major nations, the players you would expect, here is how their Summer Olympic team breakdown works out:

NOC Total Men Women Fem%%%
Russia 1633 942 691 42.3%
Jamaica 320 207 113 35.3%
German Demo. Rep. 1129 761 368 32.6%
Romania 1456 995 461 31.7%
New Zealand 1112 760 352 31.7%
The Netherlands 2468 1795 673 27.3%
Germany 3516 2592 924 26.3%
United States 7327 5467 1860 25.4%
Brazil 1708 1279 429 25.1%
Fed. Rep. of Germany 1371 1027 344 25.1%
Great Britain 5281 4011 1270 24.0%
Cuba 1204 918 286 23.8%
Poland 2233 1715 518 23.2%
Sweden 2738 2263 475 17.3%
Norway 1361 1125 236 17.3%
France 4911 4082 829 16.9%
Switzerland 1741 1486 255 14.6%

Again, remember that many of these nations competed prior to World War II, when there were very few women’s events.

And what about those nations who have had very few, in some cases, almost no, female Summer Olympians:

NOC Total Men Women Fem%%%
Saudi Arabia 142 140 2 1.4%
Kuwait 192 189 3 1.6%
Pakistan 354 346 8 2.3%
Afghanistan 100 97 3 3.0%
Monaco 64 62 2 3.1%
Iraq 174 168 6 3.4%
Qatar 108 104 4 3.7%
Botswana 52 50 2 3.8%
British Virgin Islands 23 22 1 4.3%
Iran 463 441 22 4.8%

Among current IOC Member nations, only three have had only 1 female competitor – British Virgin Islands (22), Brunei (5), and Tuvalu (4), while six have had only 2 women compete – Botswana (50), Kiribati (5), Monaco (62), Nauru (6), Oman (37), and Saudi Arabia (140). The numbers in parentheses indicate those nations’ male Olympians

Charlotte Cooper - First Female Olympic Gold Medalist - 1900 Tennis
Charlotte Cooper – First Female Olympic Gold Medalist – 1900 Tennis

 

As noted, in those early years, there were very few events for women at the Olympics. How bad was it, Johnny? Here is the breakdown:

Events Men Women Mixed Total Fem%%% FemEligible
1896 43 0 0 43 0.0% 0.0%
1900 71 2 22 95 2.1% 25.3%
1904 92 3 0 95 3.2% 3.2%
1906 72 1 1 74 1.4% 2.7%
1908 96 3 7 106 2.8% 9.4%
1912 91 5 6 102 4.9% 10.8%
1920 130 7 15 152 4.6% 14.5%
1924 112 10 4 126 7.9% 11.1%
1928 92 14 3 109 12.8% 15.6%
1932 99 14 4 117 12.0% 15.4%
1936 110 15 4 129 11.6% 14.7%
1948 112 19 5 136 14.0% 17.6%
1952 117 25 7 149 16.8% 21.5%
1956 116 26 9 151 17.2% 23.2%
1960 113 29 8 150 19.3% 24.7%
1964 119 33 11 163 20.2% 27.0%
1968 115 39 18 172 22.7% 33.1%
1972 132 43 20 195 22.1% 32.3%
1976 130 49 19 198 24.7% 34.3%
1980 134 50 19 203 24.6% 34.0%
1984 144 62 15 221 28.1% 34.8%
1988 151 72 14 237 30.4% 36.3%
1992 159 86 12 257 33.5% 38.1%
1996 163 97 11 271 35.8% 39.9%
2000 168 120 12 300 40.0% 44.0%
2004 166 125 10 301 41.5% 44.9%
2008 165 127 10 302 42.1% 45.4%
2012 162 132 8 302 43.7% 46.4%
Totals 3374 1208 274 4856 24.9% 30.5%

Wojdan Shaherkani, Judo player from Saudi Arabia – London 2012

So, as you can see, prior to World War II, women rarely had even 15% of the events in which they could compete, with the exception of 1900 when there were a lot of mixed events.

How many women have actually competed at the Summer Olympics, as a percentage of the total, since 1896? Here is that table:

Year Women Total Wom% WomNOCs NOCs %NOC
1896 0 246 0.0% 0 12 0.0%
1900 23 1614 1.4% 6 31 19.4%
1904 6 650 0.9% 1 15 6.7%
1906 6 841 0.7% 2 21 9.5%
1908 44 2023 2.2% 3 22 13.6%
1912 53 2377 2.2% 10 27 37.0%
1920 77 2670 2.9% 14 29 48.3%
1924 135 3067 4.4% 20 44 45.5%
1928 274 2878 9.5% 25 46 54.3%
1932 126 1334 9.4% 19 38 50.0%
1936 329 3956 8.3% 27 49 55.1%
1948 393 4073 9.6% 32 59 54.2%
1952 521 4932 10.6% 41 69 59.4%
1956 383 3344 11.5% 38 72 52.8%
1960 612 5350 11.4% 45 83 54.2%
1964 680 5137 13.2% 53 93 57.0%
1968 783 5557 14.1% 54 112 48.2%
1972 1060 7113 14.9% 67 121 55.4%
1976 1260 6073 20.7% 65 92 70.7%
1980 1123 5259 21.4% 56 80 70.0%
1984 1569 6798 23.1% 95 140 67.9%
1988 2202 8453 26.0% 118 159 74.2%
1992 2723 9386 29.0% 134 169 79.3%
1996 3519 10339 34.0% 168 197 85.3%
2000 4069 10648 38.2% 191 200 95.5%
2004 4304 10561 40.8% 192 201 95.5%
2008 4611 10901 42.3% 195 204 95.6%
2012 4657 10520 44.3% 201 205 98.0%
Totals 25467 107829 23.6% 209 221 94.6%

So as we celebrate International Women’s Day, we can see that at the Olympics, in terms of female participation, things were once very bad, they are better now, but there is still a long way to go.

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