Gender Quotas — by LKB

You’ve probably heard the term “gender quota” if you’ve done any sort of research about women who hold political office worldwide. This is a term that seems fairly obvious, but actually encompasses a wide variety of systems in implementation. The use of gender quotas has taken more heat in recent years, and it is being closely examined as even developed countries look for ways to increase their number of women in government.

In today’s world, it is generally agreed upon that equal gender representation in governments is beneficial to society as a whole and is something to strive for. However, the different methods on how to increase the number of women in political office are often disputed even by those who share the same goal of gender equality. One of these methods is the use of quotas in elected representative bodies or parliaments.

This method has grown more popular and widespread among nation’s governments over the past few decades. About 50 countries have adopted quotas of some sort [4]. There are three main types of quotas, which nations choose to implement.

One type of quota is establishing reserved seats for women in legislative districts. This can be written into the constitution or passed as a piece of legislation. This kind is mostly found in Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African countries [3].

There are also legislated candidate quotas, which legally regulate the composition of political party’s candidate lists. These quotas can also be written into the constitution or be drafted as a separate law.

The third kind of quota is party quotas, which are voluntary gender quotas adopted by political parties [3]. This type of system is more commonly found in European nations.

The question of whether these quotas should be in place and even if they are effective has become more disputed in recent years.

Some of the cited advantages are that women’s experiences are a necessary part of the political arena; quotas guarantee multiple women serving together, thereby minimizing the pressure and stress from being the token female on a committee, and include the rebuttal that quotas don’t discriminate, but instead compensate for barriers that prevent women from taking office.

While the advantages of having a more gender balanced legislature are fairly obvious, there are less easily discernible disadvantages that advocates for gender equality cite. These include the idea that quotas are against the principle of equal opportunity, concern for the conflict and endangerment to women that the quotas could bring, and the observation that enforcing quotas in less developed countries that have massive inequality would force them to take a bigger leap than they are capable of, rendering the system ineffective.

Another more relatable concern is that the quota system would actually enforce the idea that women are less capable, similar to the societal effects of affirmative action in American Ivy League universities. Because racial minorities are given preference in the admission process for the sake of diversity, many of their peers dismiss them as less qualified and assume they only were admitted because of their skin color. Many are concerned that gender quotas have this same effect on the populace’s perception of female politicians.

So are gender quotas the way to achieve a more representative electorate? Will they improve the status of women worldwide or will these female leaders be present, but dismissed? Are gender quotas helpful or harmful to the plight of political women worldwide?

The U.S. has an abysmally low percentage of women in its legislative body at 20% [1]. Would it be plausible to institute gender quotas here in order to make Congress more representative of America’s demographic makeup? Is the absence of gender quotas the reason for our male dominated Congress and our lack of a female president?

As we head into the 2016 elections, we need to consider these questions and how we want to put more women in power.



[1] Bump, Philip. “The New Congress Is 80 Percent White, 80 Percent Male and 92 Percent Christian.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 5 Jan. 2015. Web. 28 Nov. 2015.

[2] Dahlerup, Drude. “About Quotas.” Quota Project. Global Database of Quotas for Women, 2009. Web. 25 Nov. 2015.

[3] “Electoral Gender Quotas – a Major Electoral Reform.” International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (n.d.): n. pag. 2014. Web. 20 Nov. 2015.

[4] “Frequently Asked Questions.” Frequently Asked Questions. Quota Project, n.d. Web. 27 Nov. 2015.


3 thoughts on “Gender Quotas — by LKB

  1. Good Reason says:

    Hey, I am all for quotas in the US! Montana actually put quotas on the ballot a few years ago, though it was defeated. I think we should have a man and a woman representing every US congressional district, and every state!

    Democracy is not just process, given the millennia of discrimination against women. We’ve got to have equal representation as we move into the future and face its challenges . . . After all, as we look around, do we like the world the men have made?

  2. Victoria says:

    I wonder if just the sheer fact of seeing more women in power would encourage more equal participation of women in government. Imagine a generation of girls who grew up seeing 50% women in Congress! If Super PACs are going to continue, I sure would love to see one aimed at supporting women candidates.

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