In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Gender Quotas in Politics

  • Introduction
  • Quota Arguments – Pro and Con
  • The Spread of Electoral Gender Quotas
  • Effectiveness: Gender Quotas and Electoral Systems
  • Quotas in the Nomination Process
  • Intersectional Perspectives

Political Science Gender Quotas in Politics
Drude Dahlerup
  • LAST REVIEWED: 15 January 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 January 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0295


Gender quotas in politics, also named “electoral gender quotas,” represent one of the major electoral reforms in world politics since the 1990s. It is an affirmative action measure, which requires a certain number or proportion of women—or of both men and women—among those nominated or elected. Previously, rather unpopular quotas for women existed in various forms in most communist countries, and in Pakistan since 1956, Bangladesh since 1972 with some interruptions, and in Egypt from 1979 to 1984. However, in the 1970s and 1980s, Greens, Left Socialist, and Social-Democratic parties in the Nordic countries started using minimum quotas for women for their internal organization and their lists for elections, so-called party quotas. The recent trend in quota adoption by law, i.e., legislated quotas, binding for all parties, started with Argentina’s quota law of 1991, which requires a minimum of 30 percent of candidates of each gender on the electoral lists. India was also among the first, although with a different, third type, named reserved seats quotas: Through a constitutional amendment, 1993–1994, one-third of the seats in the local councils, the Panchayats, was reserved for women in advance of the election. By the end of the 2010s, more than half the world’s countries had adopted some type of electoral gender quotas. It remains a controversial policy, even among feminist researchers, yet has proven to be an efficient affirmative action measure (a fast track policy), depending, however, on how quota rules fit the electoral system in place, additional rank order rules, and sanctions for non-compliance. The legitimacy of electoral gender quotas depends on the quota design and on the prevailing discourses on why women are under-represented—or why men are over-represented—seen in relation to their share of the population. Research on gender quotas in politics emerged with the rapid expansion of quotas, and this research, which is predominantly, but not exclusively, conducted by political scientists, has in itself contributed to the effectiveness of quotas, including through international consultancy. The CEDAW convention from 1979 paved the way for gender quotas by stating that the adoption of “temporary special measures aimed at accelerating de facto equality between men and women shall not be considered discrimination” (Art.4.1). Later, the UN Platform for Action, adopted in Beijing in 1995, linked equal participation of women and men in decision-making to the development of democracy. Transnational women’s movements have been instrumental to the adoption of this new global discourse, and national women’s movements to the implementation.

Emergence and Early Research

At the turn of the millennium, researchers as well as international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) began to take an interest in the new gender quota trend, even if many actors were still hesitant. Between 2002 and 2004, the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, IDEA, in corporation with researchers from Stockholm University, organized a series of regional workshops for NGOs and local researchers, held in Jakarta, Lima, Pretoria, Budapest, and Cairo. The reports, The Implementation of Quotas 2003–2007, are a mine of information on early quota discourses. Established in 2003, The Gender Quota Database became a source for women’s rights activists and researchers worldwide. The Inter-Parliamentary Union, IPU’s database on women’s political representation worldwide, starting from 1997, laid ground for competition between countries. The newer dataset Quota Adoption and Reform Over Time (QAROT) provides useful longitudinal data on gender quotas. Today, any cross-national research on women’s political representation must include studies of gender quotas, since quota reforms have outdated older theories, among them the now invalidated theory that the higher the socioeconomic development, the higher women’s political representation. Tripp and Kang 2008 argues that since the mid-1990s, quota adoption offers the most explanatory power for women’s representation. In the middle of the 1990s, women occupied 11 percent of the parliamentary seats worldwide, and the Nordic countries and the Netherlands were alone at the top of the world rank order. At the start of 2019, the figure had increased to 24 percent in single or lower houses, and Rwanda, Cuba, Bolivia, and Mexico are heading the list with 48–64 percent women, all by the use of quotas. Already in 2005, Dahlerup and Freidenvall concluded: “Scandinavia is no longer the Model” (Dahlerup and Freidenvall 2005). Instead, Latin America became the forerunners as analyzed in Htun and Jones 2002 and in Baldez 2004, among the earliest scientific studies of the new electoral reforms. Buch 2001 scrutinized the early Indian experiences. The first PhD theses on gender quotas began to emerge with case studies from around the world, see for instance Krook 2009. The book Women, Quotas and Politics (Dahlerup 2006) represents the first global study on gender quotas in politics written by scholars from all major regions in the world. Electoral gender quotas have been conceptualized as a “fast track” modelin contrast to the “incremental track” model, i.e., the slow and gradual development of women’s political representation known from the old democracies.

  • Baldez, Lisa. “Elected Bodies: The Gender Quota Law for Legislative Candidates in Mexico.” Legislative Studies Quarterly 29.2 (2004): 231–258.

    DOI: 10.3162/036298004X201168

    This is an in-depth study of the origin of gender quotas in politics in the case of Mexico, a country that was to develop one of the most radical gender quota systems in the world (48 percent women in parliament in 2019).

  • Buch, N. “The 73rd Constitution Amendment and the Experience of Women in the New Panchayati Ray Institutions (PRIs): A Critical Evaluation.” In Women in the Panchayati Raj. Edited by A. Pinto and H. Reifeld, 7–25. New Delhi: Indian Social Institute, 2001.

    This is one of the first comprehensive studies of the 33 percent reservation for women in local councils (Panchayats) in India. It shows how the Indian reserved seats quotas, based on rotation between the local wards, reserves 33 percent of the local seats for women, involving millions of women in local politics over the years.

  • Dahlerup, Drude, ed. Women, Quotas and Politics. London and New York: Routledge, 2006.

    First global study of electoral gender quotas, written by researchers from all major regions of the world (expect the Pacific). Shows the origins region by region, and country by country, demonstrating regional patterns. It presents the widely used typology of gender quotas, based on (1) the mandate, i.e., party or legislated quotas, and (2) where in the electoral process quotas are applied, i.e., the aspirants/primaries, the candidates, or those elected.

  • Dahlerup, Drude, and Lenita Freidenvall. “Quotas as a Fast Track to Equal Representation for Women. Why Scandinavia Is No Longer the Model.” International Feminist Journal of Politics 7 (2005): 26–48.

    DOI: 10.1080/1461674042000324673

    Introduces the concepts of fast track by quotas in contrast to the incremental track model to women’s political empowerment of old democracies.

  • Htun, Mala N., and Mark P. Jones. “Engendering the Right to Participate in Decision-Making: Electoral Quotas and Women’s Leadership in Latin America.” In Gender and the Politics of Rights and Democracy in Latin America. Edited by Nikki Craske and Maxime Molyneux. New York: Palgrave, 2002.

    On Latin America as a forerunner region. This book analyzes the new gender quota reforms in twelve Latin American countries between 1991 and 2000, beginning with Argentina.

  • The Implementation of Quotas. Report on Experiences from Asia (2003), Latin America (2003), Africa (2004), Europe (2005) and Arab Region (2007). Stockholm: International IDEA.

    Reports from the early groundbreaking regional workshops for NGOs, politicians, and researchers about experiences with the first electoral gender quotas.

  • Krook, Mona Lena. Quotas for Women in Politics: Gender and Candidate Selection Reform Worldwide. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195375671.001.0001

    A further development of Krook’s dissertation (Columbia University, 2005), which was one of the very first quota dissertations. The 2009 book develops a general framework for analyzing the adoption and implementation of gender quotas around the globe, illustrated by an analysis of the three major quota types: Argentina and France; Sweden and the United Kingdom; Pakistan and India.

  • Tripp, Aili Mari, and Alice Kang. “The Global Impact of Quotas. On the Fast Track to Increased Female Legislative Representation.” Comparative Political Studies 41 (2008): 338–361.

    DOI: 10.1177/0010414006297342

    This article analyzes the adoption of gender quotas in politics, especially by post-conflict countries. It argues that since the mid-1990s, quota adoption offers the most explanatory power for the level of women’s representation.

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