Only 22 countries have an elected woman head of state or government, while 119 nations have never had a woman leader, according to UN Women.
At the current rate of progress, gender parity at the highest positions of power will not be reached for 130 years.
The analysis also showed parity would not be reached in national parliaments before 2063, and in ministerial positions before 2077.
In early 2020, only 14 countries had cabinets where women held at least half of posts. They included Rwanda, Finland, Canada, Colombia and Peru.
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, who made history as South Africa’s first female deputy president in 2005, said gender-balanced cabinets made better decisions not just for women, but for society as a whole.
“You reduce the likelihood of missing out on the needs of some people because you just have never walked in their shoes,” she added.
She said female leaders, from New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to former German chancellor Angela Merkel, had rightly won praise for their handling of the COVID-19 crisis.
“Women tended not to focus on the politics, but just on finding solutions, so they would work with everybody,” she added.
Getting more women into local government also makes a difference, Mlambo-Ngcuka said. In India, for example, women-led councils have pushed for better access to clean water, critical for preventing the spread of the virus.
Barriers to women’s participation in public life include political parties’ reluctance to support them, lack of funding, public perceptions that men make better leaders, and violence and intimidation, including cyber-abuse.
More than 80 per cent of women parliamentarians surveyed globally have experienced psychological violence. One in four have suffered physical violence and one in five sexual violence.
On January 25 last year, Estonia became the only country with a female president and female prime minister.
However, the number of women parliamentarians worldwide has more than doubled since 1995 to 25 per cent.
Women are also at the forefront of the battle against COVID-19, as front-line and health sector workers, as scientists, doctors and caregivers, yet they get paid 11 per cent less globally than their male counterparts.
An analysis of COVID-19 task teams from 87 countries found only 3.5 per cent of them had gender parity.
Mlambo-Ngcuka said it was crucial that women play a leading role in building more inclusive post-COVID-19 economies, particularly as so many women had been pushed into poverty.
“If women do not recover from the poverty they’ve been thrown in because of COVID, many families and communities are going to be in a very difficult situation for a very long time. And that is going to be a problem for everybody,” she said.
(With inputs from agencies)