Members' Research Service By / February 28, 2014

Female Political Representation – the use of Electoral Gender Quotas

Written by Irene Hennigan In almost 100 countries throughout the world, parties and parliaments have responded to growing national and…

© bluedesign / Fotolia
Written by Irene Hennigan

In almost 100 countries throughout the world, parties and parliaments have responded to growing national and international pressure to increase women’s political representation by introducing electoral gender quotas. Those in favour of gender quotas believe it is an effective tool for ‘fast tracking’ the achievement of gender balance in political institutions, essential for democratic development, while opponents often see quotas as a violation of the principle of merit and intrusion on party freedom. Currently women comprise only 20% of national legislatures worldwide (IPU World Average December 2012).

Female Political Representation - the use of Electoral Gender Quotas
© bluedesign / Fotolia

On the 4th July 2013 the European Parliament adopted the report ” Improving the practical arrangements for the holding of the European elections in 2014 ” drafted by Andrew Duff (AFCO). The report calls upon MS and political parties to support female candidates, but does not require quotas or other mandatory means to secure this. Eight MS have successfully implemented electoral gender quotas and the perceived necessity to introduce binding measures both at national and EU level has been voiced by a number of MEPs.

This KeySource brings together a selection of some recent studies and opinions on this topic (Last updated 24th February 2015)

See also the EPRS infographic Women in parliaments Infographic by Evarts Anosovs , Eva-Maria Poptcheva , Giulio Sabbati 22 January 2015 & the EPRS study Women in Politics November 2013

Electoral Gender Quota Systems – An Overview

Actions for gender balance in the European Parliament EP elections 2014 : compilation of briefing notes : Thursday, 20 June 2013 : workshop / European Parliament Policy Department C , 2013, 59p.
See in particular at page 25 “Political Parties: Door-keeper or Door-opener for Women’s pathways into politics? by Isabelle Kurschner “for women’s advancement in politics and their presence in public offices political parties play an essential role…political practice as well as scientific research show that women’s pathways into politics differ from those of men’s: women need more encouragement than men to run for office but receive less….”p.38. The author provides two case studies on France and Germany.

Electoral gender quota systems and their implementation in Europe update 2013 : note / Freidenvall, Lenita ; Dahlerup, Drude , European Parliament Policy Department C, Brussels: European Parliament, 2013, 26p
The note is an updated version of the 2011 study Electoral Gender Quotas and Their Implementation in Europe (PE 408.309), and it maps the diffusion of electoral gender quotas in the 30 EU/EEA countries and evaluates the effectiveness of different quota types in different electoral systems. The note shows that legislated quotas are implemented in eight countries and party quotas in 14 (additional) countries. It also shows that some gender quotas have resulted in major leaps in women’s representation, while others had led to almost no change. In general, the note reveals a mixed picture in Europe when it comes to women’s representation. It shows that women’s parliamentary representation only increased from 23.6 per cent in 2008 to 24.7 per cent in 2011 to 25.6 per cent in 2013. In the most recent parliamentary election in 19 of the countries as well as in the election to the European Parliament women’s representation increased. Four countries experienced stagnation, and in seven of the countries women’s share of the MPs dropped.

Electoral Quotas for Women, 2013 / CESifo / Ifo Institute, Centre for Economic Studies Munich, November 2013, 9p
This document provides an up-to-date account of electoral quotas for Women including the legislative basis where appropriate for Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia (FYROM), Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United Kingdom.

Global database of Quotas for Women / International IDEA, Inter-Parliamentary Union and Stockholm University
This website is a collaborative effort of International IDEA, Inter-Parliamentary Union and Stockholm University. The database provides information on the various types of quotas in existence today, detailing the percentages and targets in countries where they are applicable It also contains papers on “the definition of quotas, the different types of quota systems (Legislated Candidate Quotas: Reserved seats: and Voluntary Political Party Quota), the pros and cons of quotas and ‘do quotas work’.

Electoral quotas for women: an international overview / Dr Joy McCann , Politics and Public Administration, Parliamentary Library Research Paper, Parliament of Australia, 14 November, 2013, 25p
Women’s empowerment and their full participation on the basis of equality in all spheres of society, including participation in the decision-making process and access to power, are fundamental for the achievement of equality, development and peace. This paper provides both an up to date analysis of the use of quota systems internationally and also provides a good overview of the arguments for and against the use of quota systems.

Towards more women in Europe? / Pascale Joannin, Fondation Robert Schuman Policy Paper, European issues No 268, March 2013, 9p.
This short paper gives an overview of the share of women in governments, national parliaments, in the European Parliament and in the business world.

The Quota-instrument: different approaches across Europe /European Commission’s Network to Promote Women in Decision-making in Politics and the Economy / European Commission’s Network to Promote Women in Decision-making in Politics and the Economy, Working paper 2011, 25p
See in particular Annex 1 and 2 as they contain overviews of the status of the quota debates in politics and the corporate world and the current statistics on the representation of women across Europe.


Advances in EU Gender Equality: Missing the mark? /Vilde Renman & Caroline Conroy, Published in Politics and Institutions, EPIN Papers; 15 September 2014, 12p
This paper analyses female representation in top EU positions. The paper observes the EP committees, finding a clear divergence in legislative influence between committees chaired by men and women. Although female political representation has been increasing, this is happening at a very slow pace and the most influential leadership roles in the EP remain dominated by men. This raises questions of the possible need to resort to stronger measures to improve female representation in the EU institutions. It presents statistical data on changes in female EP membership in 1952–2014 (page 2) as well as on gender distribution in the political groups, 7th EP term (page 5).

Playing with different cards : Party politics, gender quotas and womens empowerment / Verge T, de la Fuente M., Published in: International Political Science Review January 2014;35(1):67-79
Although statutory quotas have considerably expanded worldwide, the bulk of gender quotas in place are party quotas used in the selection of candidates and composition of party bodies. This article aims to examine whether reforms addressing women’s representation translate into greater power for women within political parties, thus providing new insights into how transformative gender quotas may (or may not) be in promoting gender equality in politics more generally. Specifically, the authors look beyond the distributive logic of gender quotas and examine instead the party institutional configuration in which patterns of distribution are realised, through the daily enactment of informal institutions. Our findings suggest that while unequal patterns of office distribution can be effectively fixed through gender quotas, this ‘simple’ solution cannot automatically subvert the main informal sources of male power in the party organisation. As change and continuity coexist, gender quota reforms are layering processes in which some elements are renegotiated while others persist.

Gender Quotas and Comparative Politics:Past, Present, and Future Research Agendas / Mona Lena Krook & Andrea Messing-Mathie, Published in: Politics & Gender, 9(2013) 299-328
The use of electoral gender quotas—both nationally-mandated and party-based—has generated a large and growing body of research examining these policies. The rapid development of this literature stems from the widespread nature of this phenomenon, with quotas being adopted in more than half of all countries worldwide—nearly all within the last 20 years. The “first generation” of quota research focused primarily on mapping the contours of these measures, theorizing elements of quota design, paths to quota adoption, and reasons for variations in quota effects on the numbers of women elected. While such studies continue to remain important, scholars increasingly recognize that quotas are not simply about increasing the number of women in politics. This has led to the emergence of a´“second generation” of quota research, examining their impact on legislative diversity, policy-making behavior, public opinion, and mass mobilization. In contrast, non-gender scholars have generally been slow to respond to these developments, despite the potential for quotas to shape a variety of political dynamics—and thus to illuminate trends in relation to many key debates in comparative politics.

Electoral Gender Quotas : A Conceptual Analysis / Mona Lena Krook; Published in : Comparative Political Studies, 2013, 26p.
Electoral gender quotas have become the subject of a growing literature in comparative politics, with the potential to affect how scholars study a wide range of electoral and representative processes. Yet, debates have emerged over how to define and categorize these policies, with implications for the ability to compare cases and draw broader conclusions about their impact in countries around the globe.

The use of gender quotas in America: Are voluntary party quotas the way to go? / Somani A. Published in: William & Mary Law Review, March 2013; 54(4):1451-1488
The use of gender quotas as a mechanism to increase the political representation of women is rapidly becoming a worldwide phenomenon. While this paper focuses on the United States, it also provides analysis of the worldwide situation. In particular, Part A provides an interesting summary of gender quotas in an international context. Part B looks at the success of gender quota worldwide and part C address the question of how quotas help women overcome barriers to getting elected.

Rising to the Top : Gender and Party Leadership in Advanced Industrial Democracies / Diana Z. O’Brien, ECPR Conference Paper, March 2013, 27p.
Party leaders are the main actors controlling campaign strategies, policy agendas, and government formation in advanced parliamentary democracies. Despite the importance of this role, to date there has been little cross-national research addressing gender and party leadership. The extent to which female politicians have served in these posts is largely unknown, as are the factors that account for variation in parties’ propensities to select women as leaders.

Gender Quotas and Female Leadership: A Review: Background Paper for the World Development Report on Gender /Rohini Pande and Deanna Ford, Harvard University, April 7, 2011, 42p
This paper presents findings from certain countries’ experience with quotas for female representation in government and on corporate boards, and discusses how existing evidence can inform our understanding of the equity and efficiency implications of these quotas.

Judging gender quotas: predictions and results / Dahlerup D,& Freidenvall L., Published in : Policy & Politics, July 2010;38(3):407-425.
While electoral gender quotas are rapidly disseminating all over the world, they are also meeting with fierce resistance. A closer look at quota debates reveals that a considerable number of arguments for and against quotas take the form of predictions of the impact of quotas. This article identities a number of key predictions from the quota debate in relation to three dimensions: descriptive representation, substantive representation and symbolic representation. Through examples from the growing quota research, the article discusses how nine selected pairs of predictions have been or could be tested empirically. By this we hope to move the discussion of quotas away from the present deadlock between quota proponents and opponents. A central argument made is that the differences in research results do not only derive from variations between the countries, but also from the use of disparate criteria of evaluation. The article points to the need for clarification and the development of common concepts and criteria.

Do Gender Quotas Influence Women’s Representation and Policies? /Li-Ju Chen, Published in The European Journal of Comparative Economics, 2010, Vol. 7, n. 1, pp. 13-60.
This paper investigates the effect of applying gender quotas on policy decisions. The author first examines the effect of gender quotas on the representation of female legislators, studies the correlation between gender quotas and different types of government expenditures, and then use quotas as an instrument for the proportion of female legislators to investigate the effect of female legislators on policy outcomes. The results show that an increase in the share of female legislators by one percentage point increases the ratio of government expenditure on health and social welfare to GDP by 0.18 and 0.67 percentage points, respectively. The robustness check supports that the effect of quotas on female legislators is likely to be translated into the influence of female policymakers on social welfare.

Gender Quota in the Member States – some examples

‘Someday Girls, Someday’: Legislating for Gender Quotas in the Republic of Ireland /Fiona Buckley, Yvonne Galligan & Claire F. McGing , 15p., March 20, 2013. Available from SSRN. Click ‘Download’ to view the fulltext of this article.
In July 2012, legislation on political party funding and candidate gender quotas was enacted by the Irish Parliament. The Electoral (Amendment) (Political Funding) Act 2012 provides for a 30 per cent gender quota for party candidates at the next general election, rising to 40 per cent seven years thereafter. Non-compliant parties will lose half of their annual state funding. This paper is concerned with addressing the question: why did Irish political parties, who have always been so reluctant to tackle the question of women’s under-representation, suddenly do a volte-face and introduce such a radical measure to address the problem.

Gender Equality from Beneath: Electoral Gender Quotas in Poland / Adam Bodnar & Anna Śledzińska-Simon ,Canadian Journal of Law and Society, Volume 28, Issue 02, August 2013, pp. 151-168 (abstract only)
The article explores the introduction of electoral gender quotas and the unprecedented social mobilization in pursuit of gender equality in Poland. The quota law was adopted as a citizens’ initiative organized by the Congress of Women, a new women’s movement. The article analyzes the factors that account for the success of this initiative, which permanently changed the public debate on gender rights in Poland. In contrast to other countries with legislative gender quotas, the Polish law was the result of bottom-up processes, and it has a strong democratic legitimacy. The law has not significantly influenced the representation of women in the Parliament, yet it significantly mainstreamed the gender perspective in the public debate. Nonetheless, the way in which the quota law has been applied by political parties shows that Polish women in politics are a “minority” devoid of power, and that the prospects for a parity democracy are still remote.

Institutionalising Gender Equality in Spain: From Party Quotas to Electoral Gender Quotas /Verge, Tània, Published in: West European Politics. Mar2012, Vol. 35 Issue 2, p395-414. 20p. (Available from Swetswise – Click IP recognition if requested to view fulltext)
This article accounts for the particular steps Spain took to institutionalise gender equality in political representation. While some West European countries, where the ‘incremental track’ was considered too slow or too ineffective, recently shifted to the ‘fast track’ (notably, Belgium, France, Italy and Portugal), Spain adopted a legislative quota in 2007, when women’s representation had already reached very high levels. Indeed, 10 years earlier, the quotas adopted by left-wing Spanish parties in the late 1980s had already reached parity and triggered a contagion effect within the party system. Comparatively speaking, Spain has followed the incremental track in a narrow time frame since democracy was restored in 1978. Finally, although the legal quota reform encountered political and juridical opposition, Spain managed to introduce it without the need for constitutional reform.

Regulating gender equality in political office in Southern Europe: The cases of Greece, Portugal and Spain / Verge, Tania, Published in: Representation, December 2013, 49:4, 439-452
When democracy was restored in Southern Europe in the 1970s, Greece, Portugal and Spain elected less than 7% of women in their respective national parliaments. Despite sharing similar political, cultural and socioeconomic traits, some decades later, women’s representation shows great variation across the region, even if party gender quotas were progressively adopted and legislative quotas have been recently passed in all countries. Hitherto, differences in patterns of women’s representation and quota reforms in Southern Europe remain largely unexplored. Departing from a feminist-institutionalist approach this article investigates how the institutions affecting political recruitment, particularly gender quotas, have combined both across and within countries thereby producing dissimilar outcomes. The author argues that the main explanatory factor accounting for cross-national differences in the institutionalisation of gender equality in political office is the role played by the main left-wing party in promoting quota reforms and in driving broader institutional change.

Women in Parliament and Government / Nick Duckworth, Richard Cracknell, Feargal McGuinness; Note, Library of the House of Commons, November 2013
This note shows how the number of women in Parliament has changed since 1918, when women first became eligible to be elected as MPs. It presents comparative data for women in Parliament and other elected bodies in the UK and internationally. It also looks at some milestones over the last 100 years for women in Parliament and Government in the UK.

International Conventions and Agreements

The Convention of the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1979
Article 4 of the Convention recognises that temporary special measures such as quotas are needed to ‘kick-start’ women’s political representation, particularly in countries where women have traditionally been under-represented in the national legislatures. The convention notes that such measures are intended to be temporary, ending ‘when the objectives of equality of opportunity and treatment have been achieved’.

Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action , adopted by the UN in 1995 includes a specific objective relating to ‘Women in power and decision-making’.

Beijing + 5 , a special session of the General Assembly entitled ‘Women: 2000: Gender Equality, Development and Peace for the Twenty-First Century’ in 2000 at which governments reaffirmed their commitment to the goals of the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing.

Goal 3 of the UN Millennium Development Goals : Promote gender equality and empower women, adopted in 2010, which noted that ‘women are slowly rising to political power, but mainly when boosted by quotas and other special measures’.

Inter-Parliamentary Union Assembly’s Plan of Action for Gender-Sensitive Parliaments , adopted in October 2012, including a commitment to increasing the number of women in parliament, achieving equality in participation and gender mainstreaming.

Women in Parliament – Facts and Figures

Women in Parliament in 2013 : The Year in Perspective / Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), 2014
This annual IPU brochure provides an overview and analysis of progress made and setbacks encountered by women in parliament further to elections and renewals held over a year.

Women in Government / Foundation Robert Schuman, 29 April 2013, 3p.

These 3 tables outlines the figures for 27 of the Member States :

a. Women Ministers in the 27 Governments 29 April 2013

b. Women in the 27 National Parliaments 13 March 2013

c. Women in the European Parliament 18th December 2012

Women’s Representation in National Parliaments, 1960 – 2013 / Centre of Economic Studies (CES) / DICE, November 2013

World map : Women in Politics 2012 / Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) and the UN-DAW
The poster is a “snapshot” of the presence of women in the Executive and Legislative branches of Government, in January 2012.

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