According to the United Nations' 2012 "U.N. Women" report, the most inclusive parliaments are not necessarily in the best-known democracies. In fact, the best country for gender equality in government in 2012 was Rwanda, followed by Andorra and Cuba, according to the report. Meanwhile, Germany, the U.K., France and the U.S. occupied the 21st, 53rd, 69th and 78th place respectively.
Despite the challenges, women still manage to reach the highest levels in their fields; here are some of the world's top female policymakers.
—By CNBC's Alice Tidey.