Quota Systems and Female Representation: Does Quality Matter?
Despite gender advancements, female representation in countries worldwide is still relatively low. Quotas have often been shown to have a positive effect on female representation; however, not all countries have had the same success with quotas as others have. By creating a conceptualization of quota systems and analyzing 108 countries across the globe, this study argues that the better a quota system is designed within a country, the higher the percentage of female legislators will be for that country. I find that the relationship between a “well-designed” quota system and the level of female representation is not as significant as what scholars have previously found, indicating that other factors must also be considered when analyzing gender quotas.
Despite advancements in gender equality, governments and legislatures around the world still contain a small percentage of female representatives (IPU 2014). Much research has been dedicated to discovering methods that might help this figure increase. One method that is thought to work well is the implementation of gender quotas (Adams 2011; Matland 2010; Paxton, Hughes, and Painter 2006; Yoon 2004). However, despite success stories, many countries that have adopted gender quotas – like the Republic of Korea, Brazil, and Romania – have not seen an increase in female representatives (IPU 2014). This leads to the following question: why do gender quotas appear to work more for some states than others?
Studying this issue can give more power to women globally, as levels of female representation can help determine how much influence women may have in their governments. It can also determine their ability to make any changes or differences that might impact the country and its citizens as a whole. A larger number of female representatives within a country’s legislature is often correlated with a greater advancement of policies that involve issues concerning women and other minority groups (Cammisa 2004; Saint-Germain 1989; Yoon 2011; Zakuan & Atiyah 2010). This is because female representatives, being women and a minority group, will want to pursue these issues since they directly pertain to them and their constituency. Here, women representatives have the potential to impact individuals’ lives in a plethora of positive ways. Furthermore, exploring such an issue can allow political scientists to discover a variety of ways to increase small levels of representation for minority groups, as well as exploring certain characteristics of states that may prevent these groups from achieving more power and higher levels of representation.
In this paper, I will explore the effectiveness of gender quotas by analyzing the quality of quota design that individual countries adopt. This is an area that has been explored by past scholars (Dahlerup and Freidenvall 2005; Friedenvall 2005; Jones 2008; Millard 2014). However, few of these studies have analyzed as large a number of countries as this study (Jones 2008). Further, these former studies have not provided a clear conceptualization of what qualifies as a “well-designed” quota system. In this paper, I will provide an overview of the previous literature on quotas and their effectiveness in increasing female representation. I will define what qualifies as an ideal, good, intermediate, and poor quota system, creating a clearer conceptualization of quota systems than what has previously been provided. I will then analyze if this measure of quality improves the effectiveness of quotas and conclude with an analysis of the findings, providing a framework for further research.
Quotas have been a controversial subject since their implementation. Before 1985, only four countries had adopted gender quotas for their electoral systems. Now, over 88 countries have incorporated quota laws in order to increase women’s representation in politics (Tripp and Kang 2008). This fast-track implementation is designed to usher women into governments in a quick fashion, rather than waiting for gradual developments that would lead to increased percentages for women (Dahlerup 2008). A growing body of research has been dedicated to exploring this problem. Most research is centered around the following factors: types of quotas implemented (Dahlerup and Friedevall 2005; Freidevall 2005; Gray 2003; Hughes 2011; Tripp and Kang 2008); the design of the quota systems implemented (Dahlerup and Friedevall 2005; Freidenvall 2005; Jones 2008; Millard 2014); electoral systems (Dahlerup and Friedevall 2005; Gray 2003; Jones 2008; Miguel 2008); and party characteristics (Dubrow 2010; Miguel 2008; Millard 2014). This growing body of literature uses case studies of individual countries, as well as comparisons of multiple countries, showing that many of these explanations can qualify in numerous geographic regions.
A large portion of research on the success of quotas concerns the types of quotas that are implemented within a country. There are generally considered to be three types of quotas: reserved seat quotas, legal candidate quotas, and political party quotas. Reserved seat quotas regulate the number of women who are actually elected into a legislature as determined by constitutional or electoral law. Legal candidate quotas determine the number of women who must be nominated as candidates as determined by constitutional or electoral law. Political party quotas also regulate the number of women who must be nominated as candidates; however, unlike reserved seat and legal candidate quotas, political parties are not required to adopt such quotas. Instead, they are merely voluntary (IDEA 2009). Scholars often find that reserved seat quotas have the best effect on improving the percentage of women representatives (Gray 2003; Hughes 2011; Tripp and Kang 2008). This is because reserved seat quotas are not reliant on the desires of political parties and instead include legal specifications that all political parties have to follow, regardless of their personal ideology or opinion on gender quotas (Gray 2003; Tripp and Kang 2008). Although legal candidate quotas are imbedded in electoral law, scholars expect this type of quota to not perform as well as reserved seat quotas or even political party quotas. This is often due to parties ignoring any sanctions that may be in place with these quotas. Often times, these sanctions are very vague or are not enforced (Dahlerup and Friedevall 2005; Tripp and Kang 2008). Many legal candidate quotas simply require parties to include a certain percentage or number of female candidates on their lists. However, parties often get around this provision by placing female candidates in poor positions on their party lists in PR systems and by having women contend for unwinnable seats in majoritarian/plurality elections (Tripp and Kang 2008). These are election systems where a winner is selected based on who obtains the most votes (Hancock et al 2012). Voluntary party quotas are expected to perform better than legal candidate quotas, as only parties that truly support gender quotas are expected to adopt them (Tripp and Kang 2008).
Tripp and Kang (2008) find in their cross-national analysis of 52 countries that reserved seat quotas do have the biggest impact in increasing women’s representation. Voluntary political party quotas have the second biggest impact, with legal candidate quotas falling behind. Hughes (2011) studies this effect on the number of minority women in office and also finds that quotas that are imbedded in national law are more successful. However, she discovers that political party quotas are the least successful despite other theoretical assumptions and research.
Gray’s (2003) findings also differ from previous research. She notes that Argentina has consistently performed better than Chile in increasing its percentage of female representatives. Argentina has adopted a national quota law that applies to all parties, requiring them to nominate 30 percent female candidates for all of their party lists. This is in contrast to Chile, where quotas have not been implemented in electoral or constitutional law and have only undergone reform in select political parties (Gray 2003). She concludes that the adoption of a national legal candidate law has led to Argentina’s success. This is in stark contrast to the assumption that legal candidate quotas will perform poorly against reserved seat quotas and voluntary political party quotas.
Some scholars believe that the design of quota laws is more important than the type of quota when examining women’s representation. Quotas vary vastly in their designs across countries. Dahlerup and Freidenvall (2005) argue that legal sanctions and provisions are truly what determine how effective a quota may be. For some countries, passing quota legislation may merely be symbolic if there is no commitment to implementing the laws and sanctions properly. Here, Dahlerup and Freidenvall (2005) show the variations that many quota provisions may have. For example, when determining the percentage of female candidates that parties must have on their party lists, different countries require figures of five, 40, or 50 percent. Some countries require that parties have an equal share of female and male candidates, resulting in a “zipper-system” for many countries where men and women are alternated on the list (Dahlerup and Freidenvall 2005; Freidenvall 2005).
Dahlerup and Freidenvall (2005) have found that both rank-order rules and sanctions for non-compliance are essential to increasing women’s representation. Rank-order rules prevent parties from placing women in unwinnable positions on their party lists, decreasing the chance that parties will simply skate by on quota regulations that require a certain percentage of female candidates. It is also not only important that legal sanctions join quota laws, but that the proper actors are willing to enforce these sanctions. In many countries, if a political party fails to meet its quota requirements, the electoral commission is to decline the submission of its party list (Dahlerup and Friedenvall 2005; IDEA 2009). However, these sanctions are not always enforced, and many actors that are required to uphold these sanctions may have negative attitudes against gender quotas (Jones 2008).
Friedenvall (2005) also finds the design of the quota system to be important in her analysis of the Social Democratic Party in Sweden and their adoption of the zipper system. The zipper system managed to institutionally change the nature of Swedish politics and incorporate more women into the decision-making process. Millard (2014) concludes that the absence of this zipper system is one of the reasons why Poland has not achieved high percentages of female representation despite the implementation of quotas. Jones (2008) also argues that quota design is the most important element in the relationship between quotas and women’s representation, where the inclusion of rank-order rules for political parties are most likely to have the biggest impact on women’s political representation.
The electoral structure of a country is also thought to have an impact on the success of gender quotas. Proportional representation (PR) systems are expected to lead to better success for gender quotas than majoritarian systems (Dahlerup and Friedenvall 2005 and Gray 2003). In majoritarian systems, parties only nominate a single candidate for voters to choose from, forcing women to compete with men to achieve the spot. In proportional representation systems, multiple candidates are able to be nominated, increasing the likelihood that women will be chosen as candidates. The more candidates there are in a district, the more of an impact quotas will have (Dahlerup and Friedenvall 2005; Gray 2003). Further, PR systems with closed lists are thought to lead to more successful quotas than PR systems with open lists (Gray 2003; Miguel 2008). In a closed list system, parties rank candidates for the voters to choose from. Voters are not able to change the ranking of this list and cast a ballot for the entire list. Here, closed lists allow for quotas to better ensure that political parties will place women on the top of the list so that they are more likely to be elected, rather than placing them in unfavorable positions on the bottom. In open lists, however, voters are able to choose specific candidates on the list (Gray 2003; Jones 2008). Open lists advantage candidates that have more political resources at their disposal, and the candidates that are usually the most advantaged are often believed to be men (Meier 2008; Miguel 2008).
In her analysis of Argentina and Chile, Gray (2003) notes that Argentina has employed a closed PR system that has helped contribute to the success of quotas in raising women’s representation, where Chile’s open list system has led to increased challenges for women in competing with men. Jones (2008), however, does not reach the same conclusion, and argues that the party list format does not have any effect on the success of gender quotas when the overall design of gender quotas is taken into consideration. Miguel’s (2008) analysis of Brazil partially supports this finding as well. Although Brazil’s actual numbers in women’s representations have not increased, he argues that there has been an effect on the actual empowerment of women in politics in general despite the presence of an open list system. Miguel (2008) maintains that women have reached a greater political status within political parties that will allow them to succeed in achieving higher representation rates in the future.
The final factor that is discussed is that of party factors. Political parties are the vehicles that either adopt or are required to adhere to gender quotas. Due to this, it is likely that there are going to be strong opinions held by party members when it comes to gender quotas. Leftist parties are considered to be more likely to adopt gender quota laws, but it is just as important to analyze other parties who may not be as supportive of these measures. Meier (2008) finds that female and male candidates and members of political parties in Belgium differ strongly in their opinions toward gender quotas. Women are much more likely to support quotas than men. Further, both men and women believe that quotas are effective in allowing women easier access to politics; however, men are more likely to view this effectiveness in a negative light. Moreover, men are more likely to believe that women do not face any additional challenges in entering the political world. These negative attitudes against quotas can explain why they have failed to bridge the gender gap in Belgium, as well as other countries. Dubrow (2010) also finds that party attitudes can potentially affect the success of quotas. He finds that candidates who are female, anti-clerical, and those who were placed in low positions on party lists are more likely to support quotas. Those who are men, religious, and placed in high positions are more likely to oppose quotas. In short, if political parties have a negative view of quotas, they will be unlikely to adapt voluntary quota laws and will also resist following any requirements that might exist in legal candidate laws.
Millard (2014) also finds that parties’ attitudes can prevent women from gaining higher levels of political representation. In Poland, many of the political parties are highly favorable of men. Due to this, parties are often placing men in favorable positions as opposed to women. Gray (2003) also finds that the composition of party leaders can have an effect on the success of quotas. Parties where the leadership is likely to advocate for quotas are more likely to comply with quota regulations.
All of these contributions have led to a greater understanding of how gender quotas can affect women’s representation. Although some of the research explores the design of quota systems, it seems that this area needs more research and understanding than previously given. Much of the research so far investigates how a quota’s design can contribute to its success; it is clear that quota systems that are well-designed are more likely to lead to greater success. However, no previous study offers a clear conceptualization of what a “well-designed” quota system is. Many scholars point to the importance of legal sanctions and rank-order rules, but they do not clearly lay out these factors in a way that can define what a “good” quota system may be or what a “poor” quota system may be. This research addresses this gap. Further, most of the studies conducted so far have focused on a small number of countries (except for a few: Hughes 2011; Jones 2008; Tripp and Kang 2008); this research will therefore incorporate a broader range of states in the analysis in order to produce findings that can be generalized for larger geographic regions.
I have identified six levels of quality for quota systems: ideal, good, intermediate, poor, voluntary, and no quota system. With this conceptualization, I will argue the following: “ideal” and “good” quota systems will be the most effective in increasing women’s representation whereas “poor,” “voluntary,” “and “no quota” systems will be the least effective in increasing women’s representation.
Theory/Conceptualization of Quota Systems
Rank order rules and legal sanctions are considered to have the upmost importance when considering the quality of a quota system (Dahlerup and Freidenvall 2005; Freidenvall 2005; Jones 2008; Millard 2014). However, there are many variations that can be found within these two characteristics that scholars have not often considered. Rank order rules can differ in their nature. Some countries have adopted a gender parity system, where party lists are to have alternating female and male candidates throughout the list. This is to ensure an even amount (50 percent) of female and male candidates (IDEA 2014). This method is also sometimes referred to as the “zipper” method, like that seen in Sweden. However, other countries have rank order rules that require a certain number of female candidates to a designated number of seats. For example, in Burundi, one of every four candidates on a party list must be female. Furthermore, other countries also have rank order rules where a certain number of women must fulfill the top positions on a party lists. This may play out so that a least one woman must be placed within the first two, three, or more positions on the candidate list (IDEA 2014).
When considering the types of rank order rules in the conceptualization of an “ideal” quota system, gender parity or the “zipper” method will be considered to be the most ideal. This is due to the high percentage it gives to female candidates, and also because it eliminates the possibility of parties placing women in unwinnable seats. This characteristic will be included under an “ideal” quota system. Further, quota systems that require parties to have a female candidate for every three or less number of positions will be included under a “good” quota system. This is because the possibility of parties placing women in unwinnable positions on party lists is diminished, but not as effective as alternating female and male candidates. Quota systems that require parties to include a female candidate for every five positions or more will be considered intermediate. This is because there is more spacing between male and female candidates on lists that may prevent women from obtaining office. Quota systems that only include women in the top few positions on a list or that have no rank order rules will be considered “poor” systems. Placing women only in the top few positions does give female candidates winnable seats; however, this does not enable an increased percentage of women in office overall. The absence of rank order rules is especially not conducive to electing women into office.
Another important factor when analyzing quota systems is the percent of female candidates that parties must include in their party lists or choice of candidates. This can be related to rank order rules, but the two do not always go together. Further, this is useful for majoritarian systems that may not have party lists to offer voters. Ideal quotas already have the required percentage of 50 percent or 51 percent with either a reserved seat system that requires at least 50 percent of women be elected into office or an alternating “zipper” method for candidacy lists. “Good” quota systems require at least 30 percent of female candidates be included in the pool of candidates. This is because the UN has identified this figure to be the starting point at which female legislators are able to make a difference in parliament (UN 2014). Quota systems that require 20-29 percent of females among the total candidates will be considered “intermediate.” Systems that require 20 percent or less will be considered “poor.” This is because such a low figure will have very little effect in increasing female representation to a point where women can have a real say in politics.
A third and final factor that must be considered when analyzing quota systems is legal sanctions. Many scholars agree that legal sanctions are essential for a “well-designed” quota system. However, like rank order rules, there are multiple legal sanctions that may be more effective than others. There are two main types of legal sanctions: those that completely reject a party list and those that apply cuts in financial aid given to a party (Paxton and Hughes 2007). “Ideal and “good” quota systems include legal sanctions that completely reject party lists that do not comply with the quota regulations. “Intermediate” systems will include sanctions on the financial support given to a party, or financial benefits for parties that do follow the quota regulations; many parties may not view cuts in their finances to be a large setback. Parties may be willing to simply take the financial cut in order to disobey the quota restrictions that have been put into place. Further, financial benefits may not seem as important to parties or particularly helpful, and it still may be more desirable for them to ignore the quota regulations (Paxton and Hughes 2007). However, sanctions that completely reject a party’s candidate list will obviously strongly affect a political party, as they will not be able to provide candidates for voters to decide upon for office. This eliminates any power in the legislature they may have, producing a much stronger effect in preventing parties from disobeying quota regulations. “Poor” quota systems may have financial restrictions or unclear legal sanctions depending on the other characteristics of the quota system or will have no legal sanctions.
The above criteria are to serve as a guideline for the quality of quota designs. However, actually placing a country within this conceptualization can be a little difficult. A country may have one “good” quota quality but several “poor” quota qualities that cancels this out. Due to this fact, it is important that each country’s quota system is analyzed before being placed within this conceptualization of quota design. To aid in this endeavor, the following are basic categories that a country might fall under. Countries that have “ideal” quota systems must have the following: legal sanctions and rank order rules that entail a zipper system or a reserved seat system that reserves at least fifty percent of seats in a national legislature for women. Ideal quotas are designed to help reach a goal of ultimate gender parity, and due to this, ideal quota systems are expected to perform better than other systems. Good quota systems must have the following: legal sanctions, rank order rules that require a female candidate be placed on the list for every 3 positions or less, and a required percentage of female candidates of at least 30 percent. This categorization helps guarantee quota regulations that substantially increase women’s position in politics and help ensure that political parties will adhere to these regulations; however, they are not as ideal as the conditions regulated in “ideal” quota systems. Therefore, “good” quota systems are expected to correlate with higher levels of female representation in countries, but less so than “ideal” quota systems. Countries that have “intermediate” quota systems are considered to have the following: legal sanctions, between 20 percent to 30 percent of female candidates, and rank order rules that require a woman for every five or more positions; legal sanctions and at least 30 percent of women required on candidate lists; legal sanctions and a requirement between 20 percent to 30 percent of women candidates; financial legal sanctions and rank order rules that require a female candidate; or financial legal sanctions and a required 20 percent of female candidates. Here, incentives for political parties to follow quota regulations are not as strong as they are under “good” quota systems. Further, the quota regulations themselves are not as strong, resulting in less successful results in increasing women’s representation than in countries with “good” quota systems. Countries that have “poor” quota systems will be characterized as having the following: no legal sanctions; legal sanctions, no rank order rules, but have a required 20% or less female candidates; or financial legal sanctions/financial legal incentives, but no rank order rules or required percent of female candidates. If a quota system does not have any legal sanctions they are automatically qualified as a “poor” quota system. This is because quota regulations have no real reason to be followed if they cannot be enforced. These countries provide very little incentive for political parties to adhere to quota regulations for their party lists, and even when there are sanctions in place, the quota regulations themselves are very weak. This is therefore expected to lead to very low levels of female representation within these countries.
In order to test my hypothesis, I have gathered data from 108 countries worldwide. A list of these countries is provided in Table 1.These countries were chosen based on the data available through the IDEA’s Global Database for Quotas for Women, where I gathered my information for the quality of quota systems variable. The effectiveness of a quota will be measured by the percent of female legislators in the lower house of a country’s legislature. Information for this figure was taken from IPU’s comparative analysis of women in politics. I will conduct a comparative analysis of all 108 cases using correlation and multivariate linear regression analysis to determine whether the quality of the quota system matters for increasing women’s representation. I have also included a control variable for the type of electoral system that each country has implemented, the level of democracy for each country, and the regime type of each country. Electoral systems were coded on three levels, based on whether a country had a majoritarian/plurality system, a mixed system, or a proportional representation system. Information from this variable was gathered from the World Bank (2012). Democracy was coded on six levels, using Polity IV’s data of democracies ranging from negative ten to positive ten. These levels ranged from a failed/occupied state, autocracy, closed anocracy, open anocracy, democracy, and full democracy. Regime type was coded on three levels, based on whether a country was a presidential regime, an assembly/presidential regime, or a parliamentary regime. This data was also gathered from the World Bank (2012).
When analyzing my results, I will also be incorporating a view of power. Since this study is analyzing women’s access to the political institution of the legislature, a view of institutional power, as provided by Barnett and Duvall (2005) will be used. Institutional power is the “indirect” control of others through the “rules,” norms, “and procedures” of institutions (pg. 51). Here, female candidates are often kept from making a political difference through the procedures that many political parties use to nominate candidates and from the gendered norms that have developed within governments. Quotas may be able to help women overcome these institutional barriers and become a greater part of the institutions they are normally kept away from. Determining whether the quality of the design of a quota system is significant can help develop quotas that will better help women and give them additional power.
Evidence and Analysis
Of the 108 countries studied, 14 have no quota systems, 25 have voluntary quota systems, 16 have “poor” quota systems, 24 have “intermediate” quota systems, 15 have “good” quota systems, and only four have “ideal” quota systems. A breakdown of the frequencies for quota systems is presented in Table 2, as well as Figure 1, and a more detailed look at which countries fall into each category is shown in Table 3.
The statistics for each variable is also shown in Table 4, where the median for quota systems lies in the poor category, the median for electoral systems lies in the PR category, the median for levels of democracy lies in the democracy category, and the median for regime type lies in the presidential category. The median for the percentage of women in office is 22 percent.
When first looking at the relationship between the two variables, there appeared to be a weak correlation between the quality of the quota system and the female representation (Figure 2; Table 5).
Further, when looking at the correlation table and using Pearson correlation (5), the relationship between the two variables was also found to be positive with the result of .205. This relationship is weak in strength and is also statistically significant. There also appears to be a moderate, statistically significant relationship between electoral systems and the effectiveness of quotas in the positive direction, showing that PR systems are more effective in placing women in office with a value at .310. Neither regime type nor democracy has a statistically significant effect on the percentage of women in parliaments.
After conducting further analysis on the main relationship between the IV and DV using bivariate linear regression, the coefficient was once again found in the expected direction, was a weak relationship, and was also statistically significant (Table 6). This shows that the quality of the quota system implemented in a country does matter when looking to increase female representation.
After the control variables were introduced using multivariate regression (Table 7), the relationship was still shown to be in the same direction. However, the relationship was no longer statistically significant, and the strength of the relationship also decreased. The only variable that is shown to be statistically significant is that of electoral systems, with a positive, moderate relationship with the dependent variable. These results indicate a spurious relationship between the primary independent and dependent variables once control variables are included; the electoral system rather than the quality of the quota system seems to be driving the effectiveness of quota systems. This finding confirms the result found in the correlation table and indicates that the quality of the quota system may not be as important as the electoral system of a particular country. Further, this finding could also possibly show that the quality of quota systems may be connected to the type of electoral system that is in place. A crosstab analysis (not shown) confirms these results.
In my study, I expected to find that the better designed a country’s quota system is, the higher the level of female representation will be for that country. When conducting an analysis of the data, I found that the bivariate relationship was weak, shown to be in the expected direction, and was also statistically significant. However, once other variables were controlled through multivariate analysis, the relationship was no longer statistically significant. These results suggest that electoral systems are really driving the change in the effectiveness of quotas, differing from many studies that have shown a statistically significant relationship between the quality of quota systems and the levels of female representation. For a broader application, these results suggest that the quality of design of quota systems does not necessarily mean that women will overcome many of the institutional barriers and powers they face in advancing in politics. Other methods may need to be used in order to increase the influence and power women have in legislatures across the world. This does not necessarily mean that quotas are irrelevant in advancing women’s power in politics, but that other factors must also be considered. These factors could relate to the actual quota systems themselves (e.g. how long they have been put in place, what types of political systems they operate under), or to other potential factors that lead to higher levels of female representation (e.g. the type of electoral system, culture, or the level of democracy a country may have).
Future research should look to conceptualize quota systems in a similar way to what has been shown here and also look to improve it. The characteristics of a “good” or “poor” quota system can be complicated, and the levels that are presented here may not be encompassing all of the multiple ways a quota system can be considered to be “ideal,” “good,” or “poor.” Researchers should try to conceptualize their own quota system based on the one provided and add any necessary changes they may see fit. Using this conceptualization of quality quota systems should also be paired with the electoral systems in more detail, providing a more complete analysis of the effects a country’s electoral system may have in producing quality quota systems. Further, researchers should look into the production of the quality of quota systems, analyzing why certain countries choose to adopt better quality quota systems than other countries. Since quotas are such a new phenomenon in recent world politics, and since more countries are adopting quotas every year, there is still much research to be done to analyze the many effects that quotas may have on female representation.
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