Gender Quotas : A Very Short Introduction

Gender quotas have proven to be an extremely effective tool at increasing the number of women being elected into parliaments across the world. As of 2019, more than half of the top nations for women’s representation in politics have some form of voluntary, legislative or constitutional quota. But what are quotas and how do they work? Here is a quick guide gender quotas. 

Gender quotas are a form of positive discrimination or affirmative action that aim to increase the representation of women in politics in various different ways. The precise way in which quotas work in each country depends on the political system, electoral system and culture. Quotas can be either voluntary or legislative/constitutional. 

Voluntary quotas are established within parties. It is the party that decides what percentage of candidates must be women. These quotas usually range from 20 to 30 per cent but can be as high as 50 per cent. Because these types of quotas are voluntary there is no legal repercussion or incentives for parties to establish or maintain them. Despite this, voluntary quotas seem to work quite well. Sweden and South Africa both have voluntary party quotas and are both in the top ten countries in terms of women’s representation in politics. 

Quotas may also be legislative or constitutional. In this case, parties are obliged to meet a particular quota of women candidates being nominated for election by electoral law. Countries using legislative quotas include Bolivia, Senegal and Mexico. These quotas can also take the form of reserved seats. The best and most successful example of a reserved seat system is in Rwanda, where 24 out of 80 parliamentary seats are reserved for women. 

Of course, these legislative quotas are not perfect. Ensuring that women are on the ballot does not guarantee election. Parties mustn’t place token women on the ballot in seats that the party is unlikely to win. Additionally, in nations that use the proportional representation list system, women must be included at the top of the list where they are more likely to win a seat: Some countries do oblige parties to include women in a pragmatic way such as alternating candidates by gender on these lists. 

Quotas are an excellent tool that can quickly increase the number of women that are taking seats at all levels of politics. They are an excellent form of affirmative action that can tackle the historical preference for men in politics that continues to benefit men today. It is important to note however that quotas do not address other significant barriers that exist to women entering politics, for example, long working hours, access to education, lack of access to childcare or fear of harassment. 

While gender quotas have proven to be effective, they must be used in combination with other important tools such as raising awareness of the importance of including women in politics, improving access to childcare or tackling the rampant harassment of women in politics. 

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