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Women quotas


Total number of countries with constitutional, electoral or political party quotas : 92

Average level of representation for women countries with quotas :17,7%



1. Different Quota Systems[1]

There are several different types of quotas systems. The most common are the following



1.1. Constitutional Quota for National Parliament

These are quota provisions that are mandated in the constitution of the country. Examples are Burkina Faso, Nepal, the Philippines and Uganda.


1.2. Election Law Quota or Regulation for National Parliament

These are quotas that are provided for in the national legislation or regulations of the country. Legislative quotas are widely used in Latin America as well as for instance in Belgium, Serbia, Bosnia & Herzegovina and Sudan.


1.3. Political Party Quota for Electoral Candidates

These are rules or targets set by political parties to include a certain percentage of women as election candidates. There might also be quotas for internal party structures, but these are not included in this document. In some countries there are many political parties that have adopted some type of quota provisions, e.g. Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Germany, Norway, Italy and Sweden. But in many other countries, only one or two parties have adopted quotas. However, if the majority party in a country uses quotas, like African National Congress in South Africa, this may have a substantial effect on the overall representation of women. Yet, most political parties in the world do not apply any quota system at all.


In addition to this tri-partite division, one might add a further quota type:


1.4.Constitutional or Legislative Quota for Sub-National Government

These are quotas that are provided for in the constitution or legislation that require or set targets for women to constitute a certain percentage of candidates at sub-national government level (including local, district or state/provincial levels). Examples are India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, France and South Africa.

Quotas work differently under different electoral systems. Quotas are most easily introduced in proportional representation (PR) systems. However, quotas have also been implemented in some majority systems. But even in PR-systems, some political parties and parties in some constituencies may have difficulties in implementing quotas because the quota may be viewed as interference in the usual prerogatives of the local party organization to select their own candidates.




2. Quotas: Pros and Cons

Quotas are a controversial measure. Various arguments have been set forth for and against the introduction of quotas as a means to increase the political presence of women. Some of the pros and cons include


2.1. Cons

- Quotas are against the principle of equal opportunity for all, since women are given preference over men.

- Quotas are undemocratic, because voters should be able to decide who is elected.

- Quotas imply that politicians are elected because of their gender, not because of their qualifications and that more qualified candidates are pushed aside.

- Many women do not want to get elected just because they are women.

- Introducing quotas creates significant conflicts within the party organization.



- Quotas for women do not discriminate, but compensate for actual barriers that prevent women from their fair share of the political seats.

- Quotas imply that there are several women together in a committee or assembly, thus minimizing the stress often experienced by the token women.

- Women have the right as citizens to equal representation.

- Women's experiences are needed in political life.

- Election is about representation, not educational qualifications.

- Women are just as qualified as men, but women's qualifications are downgraded and minimized in a male-dominated political system.

- It is in fact the political parties that control the nominations, not primarily the voters who decide who gets elected, therefore quotas are not violations of voters' rights.

- Introducing quotas may cause conflicts, but may be only temporarily.



3. Advantage of Proportional Representation System[2]

Different electoral systems lead to different outcomes. Throughout the developed world in the 1960s and 1970s we saw a wave of what was called "second generation feminism" ­ women demanding equal rights on a whole array of issues, among them greater representation in political bodies. In countries with PR systems, women were able to translate those demands into greater representation. In majoritarian systems, on the other hand, the same demands were made but they were largely unsuccessful or only very modestly successful.

Proportional representation systems have consistently higher district magnitudes, which lead to higher party magnitudes. Party and district magnitudes are important because they affect party strategy when choosing candidates. The party gatekeepers, who must consider which aspirants to choose as candidates, will have a different set of concerns and incentives depending upon the electoral system.

When district magnitude is one, as it is in almost all majoritarian systems, the party can win, at most, one seat in a district. By definition, the party has no chance to balance the party ticket. Because of the strictly zero sum nature of nominating decisions in single-member districts, female candidates must compete directly against men; and often when nominating a woman a party must explicitly deny the aspirations of a man in the same district. When a party expects to win several seats, parties are much more conscious of trying to balance their tickets. Gatekeepers will divide winning slots on the party list among various internal party interests.

Proportional representation systems help women because a process of contagion is more likely to occur in these systems than in majoritarian systems. Contagion is a process by which parties adopt policies initiated by other political parties. To study this question, we looked for contagion effects in Norway and Canada. Looking for contagion effects in elections prior to the dominant Labour Party adopting quotas, we found that contagion occurred within local districts in Norway. The Norwegian Labour Party increased the number of women in winnable positions in exactly those districts where they faced a serious challenge by the Socialist Left, the first party to adopt quotas in Norway. When we tested for a similar effect in Canada ­ that is whether the Liberal Party was more likely to nominate women in those districts where the New Democratic Party had nominated women, we found no evidence of such an effect. In other words contagion occurred in the country with a PR electoral system and did not in the country with a majoritarian electoral system.

4. Why Some PR Systems are Better than Others NOTEREF _Ref121834216 \f \h 2

While proportional representation systems are superior for women, not all PR systems are equally preferred. There are a number of particulars that can help or hinder women's representation within the broader umbrella of PR systems. There are three specific issues that deserve mention: district magnitude, electoral thresholds, and the choice between "open list" and "closed list" forms of proportional representation.

As noted, the driving force behind women doing better in PR systems is the ticket balancing process which occurs when the party sets up their election list in each electoral district. What is crucial, if women are to win seats in parliament is that parties have to win several seats so that they go deep into the party list when selecting MPs. Previously party magnitude was defined as the number of seats a party wins in an electoral district. In designing electoral rules, women will be helped both by having high district magnitudes and by electoral thresholds, because of their effects on average party magnitude. Not surprisingly there is generally a strong positive correlation between average district magnitude and average party magnitude. As the number of seats per district increases, parties will go further down their lists (that is, win more seats) and more parties will have multi-member delegations. Both should increase women's representation. The limiting case, and the one that may be the most advantageous for women, is if the whole country is simply one electoral district. There are other considerations that may render this proposal unattractive. In many countries it is often seen as important to guarantee regional representation, in which case some geographic form of districting may be preferred.

This is a system similar to the one used in the Netherlands, which has a very high level of women's representation (31.3 per cent) and in Israel, which has a low level of women's representation (7.5 per cent). As the results for the Netherlands and Israel indicate, electoral systems cannot guarantee high representation levels. One lesson that can be learned from looking at Israel is that having a high electoral threshold, which is the minimum percent of the vote that a party must have before being eligible to win a seat, is important to help women's chances. In Israel the level of support needed to win a seat has been extremely low; it was recently raised to 1.5 per cent which continues to be quite low. The low threshold has encouraged the creation of many mini-parties, which often let in only one or two representatives. Overwhelmingly parties tend to have male leaders, and party leaders inevitably take the first few slots on the list. Women first tend to show up a little farther down the list when the party concerns turn to ensuring ticket balance. If the party only elects one or two representatives, however, even though many of their candidates in mid-list positions are women, women will not win any representation.

When designing electoral systems there is in effect a trade-off between representing the voters who choose small parties and increasing the descriptive representation of the legislature by having more women from the larger parties. To test this hypothesis, data from both Costa Rica and Sweden was evaluated. Both of these countries use electoral thresholds. Simulations show that electoral thresholds had precisely the predicted effect of increasing women's representation. Women may look favourably upon proposals to establish the whole country as one electoral district, but it would be an important strategic addendum to make sure that electoral thresholds are included in the proposal.

Another characteristic that distinguishes proportional representation systems from each other is whether they use closed party lists, where the party determines the rank ordering of candidates, or open party lists, where the voters are able to influence which of the party's candidates are elected via personal voting. There is relatively little empirical work as to whether these different forms of ballot structure help or hinder women gaining access to parliament.

The crucial question is whether it is easier to convince voters to actively vote for women candidates, or easier to convince party gatekeepers that including more women on the party lists in prominent positions is both fair, and more importantly, strategically wise. It would not be too surprising if the answer actually varied from country to country. It is possible, nevertheless, to make some cautious suggestions. While there is a temptation to recommend open party lists, because this would allow women voters to move women up through preferential voting, closed lists are likely to be superior for women.

First, the experience from preferential voting, that is, open lists, in local elections in Norway for the last 25 years has been unambiguous: it has hurt women. In every local election after 1971 there have been fewer women elected than would have been elected without a preferential vote. One must realize that while preferential voting provides the opportunity for some voters to promote women, this can easily be outweighed by the opportunity for other voters to demote women. In Norway, the negative effect has consistently outweighed the positive effect. It is perhaps important to note that if this effect has shown up in Norway, which has a deserved reputation for being highly progressive on issues of gender equality, it would hardly be surprising to find similar effects in countries with more traditional views on the proper role for women. It may be that in countries with more traditional views, or even within specific districts within a country, voters with traditional views of women's roles would go out of their way to strike or lower the women's names on the party list. So the first objection is that strategically the use of preferential voting may backfire for women.

The second objection to open lists is that it lets the parties "off the hook". That is, they are not responsible for the final outcome. The final outcome then rests with thousands of individual voters making individual decisions. If the sum of all those individual decisions is that women are voted down and out of parliament, the parties cannot be held responsible, as they cannot control how their supporters vote. With closed party lists, however, it is clear it is the party's responsibility to ensure there is balance in the party delegation. If women do poorly under these conditions it cannot be explained away as the responsibility of voters. By using closed lists, the party has the opportunity to look at the composition of the complete delegation rather than having the final outcome be the summation of number of individual decisions. Under these conditions parties could be held responsible for women's representation. If representation failed to grow, women could search out parties that were more willing to consider their demands for representation.



5. Electoral systems and quotas[3]



Country Electoral System Results last election  % of women
in parliament
1 RWANDA[4], [5], [6] List Proportional Representation (List PR) 39 of 80  48.8%
2 SWEDEN[7] List PR 157 of 349  45.0%
3 NORWAY6 List PR 64 of 169  37.7%
4 DENMARK6   List PR 66 of 179  36.9%
5 NETHERLANDS6 List PR 55 of 150  36.7%
6 SPAIN6 List PR 126 of 350  36.0%
7 BELGIUM4, 6 List PR 53 of 150   35.3%
8 COSTA RICA4, 6 List PR 20 of 57  35.1%
9 MOZAMBIQUE6 List PR 87 of 250  34.8%
10 ARGENTINA3, 4, 5, 6 List PR 87 of 255  34.1%
11 AUSTRIA6  List PR List PR 62 of 183   33.9%
12 SOUTH AFRICA6 List PR 131 of 400 32.8%
13 GERMANY6 Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) 195 of 614 31.8%
14 IRAQ3, 4 List PR 87 of 275  31.6%
15 ICELAND6 List PR 19 of 63  30.2%
16 NAMIBIA5, 6 List PR 21 of 78  26.9%
17 SWITZERLAND6 List PR 50 of 200  25.0%
18 UGANDA3, 4, 5 First Past The Post (FPTP) 75 of 304  24.7%
19 AUSTRALIA6 Alternative Vote (AV) 37 of 150  24.7%
20 LUXEMBOURG6 List PR 14 of 60  23.3%
21 TUNISIA6 Parallel 43 of 189  22.8%
22 MEXICO4, 6 MMP 113 of 500  22.6%
23 TANZANIA, UNITED REPUBLIC OF3, 4, 5 FPTP 61 of 274  22.3%
24 TAIWAN (UN: PROVINCE OF CHINA)3, 5, 6 Parallel 50 of 225   22.2%
25 ERITREA4 Unknown 33 of 150  22.0%
26 LITHUANIA6 Parallel 31 of 141  22.0%
27 PAKISTAN4, 5 Parallel 72 of 342   21.1%
28 CANADA6 FPTP 65 of 308  21.1%
29 NICARAGUA6 List PR 19 of 92  20.7%
30 POLAND6 List PR 94 of 460   20.4%
31 KOREA, DEMOCRATIC PEOPLE'S REPUBLIC OF4 Two Round System (TRS) NA of 687   20.1%
32 GUYANA3 List PR 13 of 65  20.0%
33 UNITED KINGDOM6 FPTP 127 of 646  19.7%
34 PORTUGAL6   List PR 44 of 226  19.5%
35 SENEGAL6 Parallel 23 of 120  19.2%
36 BOLIVIA 4, 5, 6 MMP 24 of 130  18.5%

List PR 18 of 100  18.0%
38 MACEDONIA4, 5, 6 List PR 21 of 120  17.5%
39 UZBEKISTAN4 TRS 11 of 63  17.5%
40 PERU4,5 List PR 22 of 122  17.5%
41 SLOVAKIA6 List PR 26 of 150   17.3%
42 DOMINICAN REPUBLIC4, 6   List PR 26 of 150  17.3%
43 CZECH REPUBLIC6 List PR 34 of 200  17.0%
44 BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA4, 6 List PR 7 of 42  16.7%
45 PANAMA4 List PR 13 of 78  16.7%
46 ECUADOR4, 6  List PR 16 of 100  16.0%
47 PHILIPPINES3, 4, 5, 6 Parallel 36 of 236  15.3%
48 ISRAEL6 List PR 18 of 120  15.0%
49 GREECE5, 6 List PR 42 of 300   14.0%
50 MALAWI6 FPTP 26 of 191  13.6%
51 IRELAND6   Single Transferable Vote (STV) 22 of 166   13.3%
52 KOREA, REPUBLIC OF4, 6 Parallel 39 of 299 13.0%
53 CHILE6    List PR 15 of 120  12.5%
54 NIGER4, 6 List PR 14 of 113  12.4%
55 KYRGYZSTAN6   TRS 2 of 63   12.2%
56 SLOVENIA6   List PR 11 of 90  12.2%
57 URUGUAY6   List PR 12 of 99  12.1%
58 FRANCE3, 4, 5, 6 TRS 70 of 577   12.1%
59 LESOTHO5 MMP 14 of 120  11.7%
60 BURKINA FASO6   List PR 13 of 111  11.7%
61 ITALY6    MMP 71 of 617  11.3%
62 ROMANIA6   List PR 37 of 331  11.2%
63 MOLDOVA, REPUBLIC OF6   List PR 11 of 101   11.1%
64 INDONESIA4 List PR 61 of 550   11.1%
65 GHANAError! Bookmark not defined. FPTP 25 of 230  10.9%
66 MOROCCO4, 6   List PR 35 of 325  10.8%
67 DJIBOUTI4, 6 Party Block Vote (PBV) 7 of 65  10.8%
68 CYPRUS6 List PR 6 of 56   10.7%
69 ZIMBABWE6 FPTP 16 of 150  10.7%
70 EL SALVADOR6    List PR 9 of 84  10.7%
71 THAILAND6   Parallel 53 of 500  10.6%
72 MALI6   TRS 15 of 147  10.2%
73 PARAGUAY4, 6 List PR 8 of 80  10.0%
74 VENEZUELA 4, 6 MMP 16 of 165  9.7%
75 SUDAN4   FPTP 35 of 360  9.7%
76 MALTA6   STV 6 of 65  9.2%
77 HUNGARY6 MMP 35 of 386   9.1%
78 CAMEROON6   PBV 16 of 180  8.9%
79 COTE D'IVOIRE6   FPTP 19 of 223  8.5%
80 INDIA5, 6   FPTP 45 of 541   8.3%
81 BRAZIL4, 5, 6 List PR 42 of 513  8.2%
83 BOTSWANA6   FPTP 8 of 47  7.0%
84 KENYA3, 6 FPTP 15 of 224  6.7%
85 ALGERIA6   List PR 24 of 389  6.2%
86 NEPAL 3, 4, 5   FPTP 12 of 205   5.9%
87 HONDURAS4, 5 List PR 7 of 128  5.5%
88 JORDAN4 Single Non Transferable Vote (SNTV) 6 of 110  5.5%
89 LIBERIA4   TRS 4 of 76  5.3%
90 ARMENIA4, 6   Parallel 6 of 131   4.6%
91 HAITI6  TRS 3 of 83   3.6%
92 BANGLADESH3, 5, 6   FPTP 6 of 300  2.0%





TABLE 5. Percent of Women MPs Across 24 National Legislatures 1945 - 1998

Majoritarian (SMD) versus Proportional Representation (MMD) Systems

























Majoritarian or Single-Member District Systems (SMD):
Australia, Canada, France (1960 and beyond), Japan, New Zealand (1945–1990), United Kingdom, and United States.

* Israel did not exist, and West Germany did not hold elections in 1945. They are therefore not included in the 1945 numbers. They are all included for all years following 1945.
** Greece, Portugal and Spain became democratic in the 1970s and are therefore only included in the 1980, 1990 and 1998 calculations.

Proportional Representation or Multimember District Systems (MMD):
Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France (1945 and 1950), Greece **, Iceland, Ireland, Israel *, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand (1998 only), Norway, Portugal **, Spain **, Sweden, Switzerland and Germany (West Germany * prior to 1990).



Figure 2. Percentages of Women in Parliament Majoritarian vs. PR Systems







[1] Drude Dahlerup, professor of Political Science, Stockholm University, Sweden

[2] Women in Parliament beyond numbers, IDEA publication.

[4] Constitutional Quota for National Parliaments

[5] Election Law Quota Regulation, National Parliament

[6] Constitutional or Legislative Quota, Sub-National Level

[7] Political Party Quota for Electoral Candidates

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