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Gender quotas in Britain: a fast track to equality?

Department of Political Science
STOCKHOLM UNIVERSITY, SE-106 91 Stockholm, Sweden
Phone +46 8 16 20 00, Fax +46 8 15 25 29,
Gender Quotas in Britain: A Fast Track to Equality?
Judith Squires
Working Paper Series 2004:1
The Research Program
on Gender Quotas
Gender Quotas in Britain: A Fast Track to Equality?
Judith Squires
Paper prepared for:
Stockholm University, seminar on
“Quotas for Women Worldwide – a Fast Track to Equality and
Monday 8th December 2003
Judith Squires
Department of Politics
University of Bristol
10 Priory Road
Bristol BS8 1TU
Tel: 0117 928 8239
Fax: 0117 973 2133
The Research Program: Gender Quotas – a Key to Equality?
Department of Political Science, Stockholm University
Party-based gender quotas for candidate selection have been deployed in Britain to
increase the number of women in Westminster and the devolved administrations of the
Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly. They have been used most extensively by the
Labour Party, and have had a significant impact on the numbers of female representatives
elected to these three bodies. This paper will survey the use made of gender quotas in
elections to Westminster (1997-2003), the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly
(1999-2003), and consider the impact that quotas had on the numbers of female
representatives. This survey will suggest that party-based measures can have a dramatic
effect on the overall numbers of women present in national legislatures. It will also
suggest that constitutional change, in the form of devolution and the establishment of new
administrations, creates new political opportunity structures that facilitate higher levels of
female representation.
In addition to establishing that gender quotas have been effective in Britain, the
paper will also indicate that they nonetheless remain controversial, with many of the
political parties opting not to adopt them. The paper will suggest that the discursive
controversies about gender quotas in Britain can best be understood in the context of the
competing conceptions of equality held by the main political parties. Parties that
embrace a conception of equality as equality of opportunity or equal treatment have
eschewed the use of gender quotas, and have adopted an incremental approach to
achieving political equality. Parties that adopt a conception of equality as equality of
outcome have been more willing to adopt gender quotas, and have embraced a ‘fast track’
to gender equality in the political sphere (see Dahlerup and Freidenvall, 2003 for a
discussion of the ‘fast track’). In additional, the paper will suggest that one can also see a
third conception of equality at play in relation to debates about women’s representation,
particularly in the new administrations: equality as gender mainstreaming. The adoption
of this conception of equality in relation to women’s political representation does not
necessarily entail the adoption of gender quotas, but may well have facilitated high levels
of women’s representation.
Quotas as Positive Action
The term ‘quotas’ covers a range of strategies, which may differ in three significant
regards: quotas can be set at different levels (for example, 20 per cent or 50 per cent);
they can be applied at difference stages of the selection process (for example, for
shortlists or selections of parliamentary candidates); and, most significantly, they can be
implemented either by law or by internal party rules (Norris 2000, p.3). Quotas can also
be applied to internal party posts (party quotas), as well as to different stages of candidate
selection (candidate quotas). A pertinent distinction can be made therefore between those
positive action strategies that are adopted voluntarily by a particular political party and
those that are implemented across a polity as a result of legislative action requiring action
to promote gender equality. Norris finds that: ‘in general, ceteris paribus (all things being
equal), the higher the level of the specified quota, the closer the quota is applied to the
final stages of election, and more binding the formal regulation, the more effective its
impact.’ (Norris 2000, p.3)
There is a clear consensus amongst comparative studies of the representation of
women in parliament that quotas make a positive impact on the numbers of women
represented. The European Commission document ‘Women in political decision-making
positions’ states that: ‘Quotas regulations are an important tool for giving women access
to leading political positions.’ (2000, p.17) Inglehart and Norris state that: The adoption
of quotas for female candidates in internal party rules has proved one of the most
important and successful means for getting more women into office, especially in
bureaucratic mass-branch parties where the rules count.’ (Inglehart and Norris 2000,
p.14) It is clear that quotas have had a significant and positive impact on the number of
women represented in national legislatures around the world.
However, the principle of quotas and their implementation have been
controversial issues. They have been contested in many quarters for a variety of reasons.
In the UK there have been concerns about whether positive action would be allowed
under the Equal Treatment Directive (76/207/EEC), which provides for equal treatment
in relation to access to employment and promotion, vocational training and working
conditions. However, the European Commission has twice stated that the selection of
candidates does not fall within the scope of the ETD (Russell 2000, 8). Article 141 (4)
of the Treaty of Amsterdam also states that the principle of equal treatment should not
prevent states from ‘maintaining or adopting measures providing for specific advantages
in order to make it easier for the under-represented sex to pursue a vocational activity’.
(Russell 2000, 8). The Fourth Report of the Joint Committee On Human Rights (2001)
also concluded that community law has become more accepting of positive action.
International human rights legislation also accepts principles of positive action:
The UN Human Rights Committee (General Comment No. 18 on the International
Covenant for Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Article 7 of the Convention on the
Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (ICEDAW, 1979) and
Article 4 of the 1986 UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination
Against Women (CEDAW) all allow for positive action (Russell 2000).
In other words, notwithstanding the concerns about quotas, the principle of
positive action in relation to representation has been established and endorsed
internationally. Moreover, quotas – in the form of all-women shortlists – have been
proven to be highly effective in Britain. Nonetheless, discursive controversy between
those who understand equality as equal treatment, and those who understand it to entail
positive action, continues to frame quota debates in Britain.
In May 1997 the number of women elected to the House of Commons increased
dramatically: the proportion of women in Westminster rose dramatically from 9.2% to
A brief glance at the numbers of women elected to each of the main political
parties in the general elections of 1983-1997 reveals that this dramatic increase in the
proportion of women in Westminster 1997 was due to the increase in the number of
female Labour MPs. The proportion of female Labour MPs, as a percentage of the total
number of Labour MPs, rose steadily between 1983 to 1992 and then dramatically
between 1992 and 1997. This, coupled with the landslide Labour victory in 1997,
explains the significant rise in women in Westminster following the 1997 general
Figure 1: Women MPs of the three main parties 1983-97
1983 1987 1992 1997
Liberal Democrats
Source: ‘Women in Politics’, briefing produced by Rachel McCollin, National Women’s Officer, The
Labour Party, September 2000.
The key factor in explaining the dramatic rise in the number of women in Westminster
appears to have been Labour Party policy regarding candidate selection.
Table 1: Women elected to parliament at last four general elections, by party.
1983 1987 1992 1997
Labour 209 229 271 418
women 10 21 37 101
% of total 4.8% 9.2% 13.7% 24.2%
397 376 336 165
women 13 17 20 13
% of total 3.3% 4.5% 6.0% 7.8%
Lib. Dem. 23*22** 20 46
women 0123
% of total 0% 4.5% 10% 6.5%
Other 21 23 24 30
women 0233
% of total 0% 8.7% 12.5% 10%
All MPs 650 650 651 659
women 23 41 60 120
% of total 3.5% 6.3% 9.2% 18.2%
Note that at 23/10/00, Labour has 100 women MPs, the Conservatives have 14 and the Lib Dems 4.
Political parties in the United Kingdom have employed three kinds of strategy to increase
the level of female representation: rhetorical (a commitment to some form of change),
affirmative action (measures to help selection such as training) and positive
discrimination (such as the use of zipping, quotas and twinning).
To date the Conservative Party has relied upon rhetorical strategies; the Liberal
Democrats have employed rhetorical strategies, some affirmative action and a limited use
of positive discrimination (short-listing quotas for Westminster elections, and zipping by
English Liberal Democrats in the election to the European Parliament). The Labour party
has employed all three strategies: for more than a decade it has advocated measures to
increase the representation of women. The ethos of the Labour party has made it more
open to the adoption of affirmative action and positive measures than any other major
party in Britain.
*Liberals and SDP combined
** SDP Liberal Alliance
The affirmative action strategies employed by the Labour party have included the
provision of training sessions and mentoring schemes for women. The positive measures
employed by the Labour party have included internal party quotas and candidate quotas
for Westminster selections 1993-96. Only the Labour Party has used candidate quotas,
which require that a certain percentage of parliamentary candidates must be women, in
elections to Westminster. Other parties (notably the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru)
have adopted quotas at an earlier stage in the selection process, most commonly short-
Between 1993 and 1996, Labour adopted candidate quotas in the form of ‘all
women shortlists’. This strategy planned that only women would be short-listed for half
of the party’s inheritor seats and half of its challenger seats. The policy went beyond the
short-listing quotas the party had used between 1987 and 1992 by insisting that only
women would be selected in these, identified seats. The policy was a controversial one
and generated some opposition at a grassroots level. It was dropped in January 1996,
following legal challenges brought by two aggrieved male aspirants at an Industrial
Tribunal held in Leeds. The Tribunal accepted the argument that the selection procedure
facilitates access to employment and is therefore subject to the UK Sex Discrimination
Act, which prevents discrimination on the grounds of sex.
Whilst the dramatic rise in the number of women in Westminster was widely
celebrated amongst those who had long campaigned for women’s greater representation
in the national legislature, it marked the beginning rather than the end of a longer process
of cultural and institutional change in relation to women’s representation in Britain. The
period since 1997 has seen many significant developments, many - but not all - of which
are positive.
In June 2001, the proportion of women in parliament remained stuck at under
twenty per cent, declining slightly in response to a small fall in the number of female
MPs. The progress of 1997 (and the slow advancement of earlier elections in 1987 and
1992) came to a halt. In total, 118 women were elected to Westminster at the 2001
general election, a ratio of 17.9 per cent. June 2001 marked the first general election since
1979 at which the number of women MPs fell. Although this fall was small, it indicated
that significant barriers to the selection and election of women remained.
Table 2: The number of women MPs from the three main parties elected at the last five
general elections
1983 1987 1992 1997 2001
Labour 209 229 271 418 412
women 10 21 37 101 95
% of total 4.8% 9.2% 13.7% 24.2% 23.1%
397 376 336 165 166
women 13 17 20 13 14
% of total 3.3% 4.5% 6.0% 7.8% 8.4%
Lib. Dem. 23*22** 20 46 52
women 0 1 2 3 5
% of total 0% 4.5% 10% 6.5% 9.6%
Other 21 23 24 30 29
women 0 2 3 3 4
% of total 0% 8.7% 12.5% 10% 13.8%
All MPs 650 650 651 659 659
women 23 41 60 120 118
% of total 3.5% 6.3% 9.2% 18.2% 17.9%
Following the abandonment of the women-only-shortlists policy in 1996 Labour
returned to the kind of measure it had used between 1987 and 1992. For the 1997-2001
round of parliamentary selections, the party insisted on equal numbers of men and
women on parliamentary shortlists (and at least two of each). This policy resulted in very
few female MPs being selected. Only 10.3 per cent of women were selected for
vacancies in Labour held seats in 2001. This level was below that of 1997 (when the all
women short-lists policy was in place): it also falls below the level achieved in 1992 and
1987. The low proportion of women selected to fight Labour held seats in 2001 indicated
that the notion that all women shortlists would reform decisively the party’s culture in
one parliament had been hopelessly optimistic. It became clear that long-term policies of
positive discrimination needed to be in place if the level of female representation was to
be increased on a sustained basis.
*Liberals and SDP combined
** SDP Liberal Alliance
Significantly, woman fared badly in the selection for winnable vacant seats for all
three main parties at the June 2001 general election. For the 1997-2001 round of
parliamentary selections, the Labour Party insisted (in place of all-women shortlists) on
equal numbers of men and women on parliamentary shortlists (and at least two of each).
Yet Labour women nonetheless won barely 10 per cent of the nominations for vacant
seats held by the party. Although the Liberal Democrats again used shortlisting quotas,
women replaced none of their retiring MPs. Twenty-five Conservative MPs stood down,
including one woman. Rejecting measures of positive discrimination the party adopted
twenty-five men. A similar pattern prevailed amongst retirements by SNP and Plaid
Cymru, though the numbers involved were small.
In other words, the abandonment of the policy of all-women-shortlists appears to
have had a detrimental affect on the upward trend in the percentage of female MPs
elected for the Labour Party. Rhetorical strategies and positive discrimination strategies
in the form of short-listing quotas adopted by all parties in the run up to 2001 did not
have the dramatic impact of all-women-shortlists.
The Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly
Meanwhile, the first elections to the Scottish parliament in May 1999 led to a proportion
of 37.2 per cent women members of the Scottish parliament. An electoral system of
proportional representation, based on regional lists was used. 73 MSPs were returned for
constituencies and 56 for regional lists. With 48 MSPs, women represented a proportion
of 37.2 per cent of members of the Scottish Parliament. Of these, 30 were elected for
constituencies (a proportion of 41.1 per cent) and 18 for the regional lists (a proportion of
32.1 per cent). Women comprised 28 out of 56 members of the Labour group (a
proportion of 50 per cent), fifteen out of 35 members of the Scottish National group (a
proportion of 42.9 per cent), three out of 18 Conservatives (a proportion of 16.7 per cent)
and two out of 17 Liberal Democrats (a proportion of 11.8 per cent).
Figure 2: Women elected to the Scottish Parliament in 1999, percentage
Overall Labour SNP Lib Dem Con Other
Following the 1st May 2003 election the number of female MSPs increased slightly to 51
(39 per cent), of which 30 were elected for constituencies and 21 for the regional lists.
Women comprised 28 out of 56 of the Labour group, nine out of 35 members of the
Scottish National group (a proportion of 25.7 per cent), four out of 18 Conservatives (a
proportion of 22.2 per cent) and two out of 17 Liberal Democrats (a pro proportion of
11.8 per cent). There were also increased numbers of female MSPs for the Scottish
Green Party and Scottish Socialist Party. As in 1999, women made more gains in the
constituency seats than in the List seats. Only the Labour Party and the Scottish Socialist
Party (SSP) used positive measures to increase the proportion of female candidates.
The first elections to the Welsh Assembly in May 1999 returned 24 out of 60
Assembly Members (AMs). As with the Scottish Parliament candidates were elected to
constituencies and by regional lists. Women comprised 47.5 per cent of those elected to
constituency seats and 25.0 per cent of those elected by the regional list. Women
comprised 16 out of 28 members of the Labour group (a proportion of 57.1 per cent), six
out of 17 members of Plaid Cymru (a proportion of 35.3 per cent), none of the nine
Conservatives (a proportion of 0.0 per cent) and three out of 6 Liberal Democrats (a
proportion of 50 per cent).
Figure 3: Women elected to the Welsh Assembly 1999, percentage
Overall Labour PC Lib Dem Con
Following the 1st May 2003 election the number of female AMs increased to 30
out of 60, 50 per cent. Women comprised 19 out of 30 members of the Labour group
(63.3 per cent). The Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru both returned 50 per cent
women. The Conservatives, who struggled to select women in winnable seats, also
returned two female AMs of their 11 assembly members (18.2 per cent). That the
Fawcett Society could celebrate the fact that ‘Wales is now world leader on equal
representation’ (The Guardian 3rd May) is particularly surprising given that until 1997,
Wales had only ever had four women MPs.
Devolution, coupled with the introduction of systems involving proportional
representation for elections to the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly obliged
participating parties to adopt a list system. Given comparative research, which indicates
that PR systems facilitate higher levels of women’s representation than either mixed or
majoritarian systems, it might be expected that the deployment of lists would boost the
representation of women as it has done in many European countries.
However in the elections to the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly to date
the impact of PR has proved to be disappointing. In both Scotland and Wales higher
percentages of female candidates were returned for the constituencies than for the
regional lists. The explanation for this lies in the fact that some of the parties winning
seats for the regions in the Scottish and Welsh elections did not place women sufficiently
advantageously on their lists. Had Labour not had a strategy of positive discrimination
in place for the majoritarian aspect of the electoral system far fewer women would have
been elected to the two bodies.
For the majoritarian constituency aspect of the 1999 elections to the Scottish
Parliament and the Welsh Assembly, Labour adopted a policy of ‘twinning’. Under this
strategy, constituencies were paired on the basis of winnability and geography. A male
and a female candidate were then selected for each. Twinning was extremely successful,
indeed the high proportion of women elected to the first Welsh Assembly and Scottish
Parliament was not due to proportional representation, but to Labour’s policy of
The Labour Party adopted this policy of twinning for the 1999 elections on a one-
off basis. Given that these were the first elections to be held to these bodies, Labour was
able to implement the policy in a context where there were no sitting MSPs or AMs.
Twinning becomes harder where only a fraction of a party’s representatives are standing
down and was therefore not used in the 2003 elections.
Although it did not employ twinning for the 2003 election, Welsh Labour did run
all-women shortlists in six constituency seats. Plaid Cymru applied tough quotas to the
regional lists, with women being placed in the first two places on each. Whilst the Welsh
Liberal Democrats took no official positive action, the party was proactive in
encouraging women candidates. The Welsh Conservatives operated no formal
mechanism but women tended to be placed towards the middle of Regional Lists which
resulted in the election of the first two female Conservative AMs.
As a result of these strategies the proportion of women in the Scottish Parliament
and Welsh Assembly rose again in 2003, in marked contrast to its fall in Westminster in
2001 following the abandonment of the all-women shortlists policy. What appeared to
make the difference was the adoption, by the Scottish and Welsh Labour Parties, the
Scottish Socialist Party and Plaid Cymru, of positive measures in the form of twinning or
all-women shortlists. In other words the elections to the devolved assemblies showed
again that positive action measures do work.
Subsequent Developments at Westminster
The Labour Government introduced The Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates) Bill
in October 2001, which gained Royal Assent on 26th February 2002, after receiving
cross-party support in Parliament. It allows political parties the freedom to introduce
positive measures, such as quotas, when selecting candidates for Parliament, local
government and the devolved assembles, without risk of legal challenge. The Act
amends the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and the Sex Discrimination (Northern Ireland)
Order 1976 to provide that Parts II to IV (or 3 to 5 of the Order) will not apply to
measures adopted by a party to reduce inequality in the numbers of men and women
elected as its candidates. The Act has a ‘sunset clause’, so that the provisions expire at
the end of 2015. This should allow for at least three elections to have taken place in
each body to which the legislation applies. The Bill’s remit includes elections for
Westminster, the European Parliament, the Scottish Parliament and National Assembly
for Wales and local government elections, although it excludes election for the Mayor
of London and other directly elected Mayors.
This legislative reform means that Labour has been able to revert to the kind of
strategy it adopted before the 1997 general election. It signals a return to a policy of
positive discrimination about which many of its senior figures, including Tony Blair,
were once lukewarm.
The full implications of passing of The Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates)
Bill have not yet become clear, but it is evident that the success in the Scottish and Welsh
elections, following the Labour Party’s adoption of twining in the 1999 elections and the
subsequent increases in the 2003 election, coupled with the persistently low numbers of
women in Westminster and the recent legislation to allow parties to address this, have
placed this issue high on the political agenda in Britain.
Neither the Liberal Democrats nor Conservatives have endorsed the use of quotas.
The Liberal Democrats are reviewing the processes by which parliamentary candidates
are sought and approved. They claim to be ‘proactively making a difference’ by
mentoring and supporting women recognize and achieve their political goals’
( The implementation of positive measures in relation to
candidate selection is made difficult both by the party structure, which is Federal, and by
the party ethos, which favours equal opportunities rather than positive action against
group discrimination. Meanwhile, the Conservatives have also eschewed the top-down
approach of the Labour Party and are offering their local associations a choice in the
mechanisms used for the selection of their candidates. Yet the Bill did receive front
bench cross-party support in the Commons, and it passed without a division either at
Second or Third Reading in the Commons. In the Lords there was similarly no division
and the Bill was debated only at Second Reading.
The consensus in support of this Bill may reflect the Bill’s permissive rather
than prescriptive nature. As Sarah Childs suggests, the issue of positive action for
candidate selection, which had previously engendered both inter- and intra-party debate,
was side-stepped because the permissive formulation of the Bill required only that MPs
be committed to reducing inequality in the numbers of men and women elected (Childs
2002). However, it may also represent a general cultural shift amongst Parliamentarians
towards accepting positive discrimination policies at party level in relation to candidate
selection. In arguing for the Bill, many MPs and Peers, from all parties, stated that
women should be present in the House of Commons in greater, if not proportionate,
numbers. Even the three women MPs who spoke against the Bill at Second Reading in
the Commons supported this principle (Childs 2002, p.91).
Explaining Political Change in Relation to Women’s Representation
The dramatic rise in the number of women in Westminster in 1997 was largely a product
of three factors: the decision taken by the Labour Party in 1993 to introduce all-women
shortlists; the successful implementation of this policy between 1993-6; and the landslide
victory of Labour in the 1997 General Election. This signals the central importance of
political parties in any explanation of the changing number of women in Westminster.
In addition, developments subsequent to the 1997 General Election suggest that new
political opportunity structures created by devolution and the lessons these generate, the
role of female parliamentarians articulating changed normative ideals in the House,
women’s lobby groups providing data and arguments to support these parliamentarians,
and finally legislative change, have all been additional important factors in the struggle to
increase the representation of women in Westminster.
The introduction of the Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates) Act creates a
vital space within which political parties can now employ positive measures. Also
central is the support for ‘temporary measures’ to address the under-representation of
women amongst international organisations. The UN Fourth World Conference on
Women held in Beijing in 1995 specifically stated that ‘Equality in political decision-
making performs a leverage function without which it is highly unlikely that a real
integration of the equality dimension in government policy-making is feasible.’ (The
Beijing Declaration, no.181)
Feminist actors have also played a vital role, including women’s lobby groups,
femocrats, women party activists and women parliamentarians. Following the 1997
election women’s lobby groups, notably Fawcett and the Equal Opportunities
Commission, launched campaigns focusing on ‘women in public life’. Both
organisations conducted research that made clear the extent of discrimination within
parties in the candidate selection process (see, for example Lovenduski and Shepherd
Robinson 2001). They also produced targeted briefings and reports, which showed the
positive measures were widely and successfully employed elsewhere (see, for example
Squires and Wickham-Jones 2001) and lobbied effectively for the introduction of positive
measures. Meanwhile, the Women and Equality Unit, based in the Department of Trade
and Industry at Whitehall, was involved alongside civil servants from the Department of
Transport, Local Government and the Regions, in seeing the Sex Discrimination
(Election Candidates) Act became law. In addition the unit was involved with the
Department of Trade and Industry in a number of regionally based seminars, starting in
January 2002, in order to encourage women to come forward and seek appointment to
public posts.
The main political parties each had women’s organizations, which campaigned
for the increased representation of women within their party. For example, The Liberal
Democrats created a Gender Balance Task Force in 2001 (, which
focuses on offering training for potential female candidates. Labour Women’s Network
also offers training and support for Westminster selections (
Finally women MPs played a clear role in speaking for the Sex Discrimination (Election
Candidates) Bill in parliament, articulating a justice argument for the importance of the
fair representation of women (Childs 2002).
A Fast Track?
It has been suggested that a movement towards the equal representation of women can
take either an incremental track or a fast track (Dahlerup and Freidenvall, 2003). Drude
Dahlerup suggests that the Scandinavian countries have taken an incremental track: it has
taken approximately sixty years for Denmark, Norway and Sweden to exceed the twenty
percent mark, and seventy years to reach thirty per cent. By contrast, countries such as
Argentina, Costa Rica and South Africa have taken the fast track, introducing quotas
where women only constitute a small minority in parliament and dramatically increasing
the percentage of women very quickly. Costa Rica went from 19% to 35% in one
election. South Africa achieved 30% women in its first democratic parliamentary
election. By and large the fast track route has entailed the adoption of gender quotas
(Dahlerup and Freidenvall 2003, p.3). This represents a shift from an equal
opportunities framework, to a positive measures framework, which aims at equality via
action to compensate structural barriers to entry rather than via equal treatment.
In the British context we see a complex negotiation of these two strategies. The
introduction of the Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates) Act allows political parties
to pursue positive measures, and adopt the ‘fast track’ approach to women’s equal
representation, within a general legal framework that operates on an equal opportunities
model and an incremental approach to women’s representation. The adoption of positive
measure by the Labour Party means that we have one party opting for the ‘fast track’
route, whilst the others continue on the slower incremental route. This is an interesting,
and rather clever, development in that it allows for a speedy increase in the numbers of
women in parliament (given high levels of support for the Labour Party), whilst
maintaining the general commitment to equal opportunities rather than positive action
(which legal quotas would require), which resonates with popular perceptions of
‘fairness’. If gender quotas appear so effective in providing direct access to the fast track
to gender equality, why do so many countries that claim to aspire to gender equality
continue to opt for the incremental track?
The Discursive Framing of Women’s Representation in Britain
Whilst party-based gender quotas have proven successful in terms of increasing the levels
of female representation in Westminster, and securing high levels in the new devolved
administrations, they have remained controversial. Many parties have been unwilling to
adopt quotas. The Labour Party has long been characterized by a commitment to
equality, though this commitment has always been accompanied by a intra-party debates
as to whether equality should be understood as equality of opportunity, equality of
income or equality of regard (see Drucker 1979, pp.45-67). Nonetheless, arguments for
positive action measures regarding women’s representation were consonant with certain
equality discourses that had a clear lineage within the Party. As the Labour Party states
on its website: ‘We are an inclusive party. Throughout our 100-year history we have
worked to ensure that historically excluded groups are embraced and engaged in the
structures of our party…’ ( accessed 27/2/04).
However, it is equal treatment rather than positive action that is increasingly
espoused as the normative ideal of equality amongst the general public in contemporary
Britain. Equal opportunities, flexibility and modernization have become central norms.
Recent research commissioned by the EOC indicates that the British public is skeptical
about the idea of equal outcomes and is more comfortable with the idea of equal
opportunities. They use the language of ‘fairness’, ‘tolerance’ and ‘having the same
chances in life’. (Howard and Tibballs 2003, p.7) There is little support for the idea that
women, as a group, are unequal in society today and sex inequality was not seen as a
priority issue. The concept of feminism was seen virtually unanimously in negative
terms as old-fashioned. However many people (and young women in particular) liked the
idea of promoting ‘women’s rights.’ (Howard and Tibballs 2003, p.7) Interestingly, the
increased representation of women also fits with this discourse: though positive action
measures which focus on group-based discrimination no longer fit so clearly, large
numbers of (young) female parliamentarians was clearly a central element in the strategy
of making the Party appear modern.
Given the ongoing discursive controversies surrounding notions of equality, it is
unsurprising the gender quotas remain controversial in Britain. The discourses that frame
quotas debates entail very particular understandings of equality, and current attempts to
address women’s under-representation by the main political parties entail either equal
treatment or positive action strategies.
In this context it is worth noting that various approaches to gender equality have emerged
over the last three decades. These approaches can schematically be described as equal
treatment (which was prevalent in the 1970s), positive action (which was prevalent in the
1980s) and gender mainstreaming (which has emerged as an increasingly important
equality strategy since the in the 1990s). Teresa Rees labels these approaches ‘tinkering’,
‘tailoring’ and ‘transforming’ respectively (Rees 2002, p.48). She suggests that equal
treatment is a legal redress to treat men and women the same, whereas positive action
recognizes that there are differences between men and women and that measures are
required to address disadvantages experienced by women as a consequence of those
differences. Mainstreaming, by contrast to each, ‘ideally should involve identifying how
existing systems and structures cause indirect discrimination and altering or redesigning
them as appropriate’ (Rees 2002, pp.46-8).
Quotas are best viewed as a form of positive action: they entail ‘tailoring’ existing
mechanisms of candidate selection in order to redress disadvantages experienced by
women. As such they are widely perceived as based on an understanding of equality as
‘equality of outcome’. Positive action, in the form of all-women shortlists adopted by the
Labour Party, has brought about rapid change and represents the fastest track to women’s
equal representation yet adopted within Britain. Yet, even the Labour Party remains
ambivalent about its own pursuit of this equality strategy, which continues to render the
Labour Party’s support of all-women-shortlists vulnerable. The Women and Equality
Unit, which responsibility for equality co-ordination across Government, is currently
engaged with equality issues in two central ways: firstly in relation the ongoing
establishment of a new Commission for Equality and Human Rights which will promote
equality of opportunities and combat discrimination
( accessed 4/3/04), and
secondly in relation to a gender mainstreaming policy which aims to integrate a
gender perspective into all policy making
(<> accessed 4/3/04).
These two developments in equality policy would appear to prioritise equal treatment and
gender mainstreaming, rather than positive action aimed to bring about equality of
outcome. The WEU depicts positive measures (which in the form of all-women
shortlists) as extremely effective in achieving greater gender equality in politics
(<> accessed 4/3/04), and
thereby appears to embrace not only equal treatment and gender mainstreaming, but also
positive action.
This suggests that it may not be helpful to categorise arguments for gender
equality into three distinct phases, which are historically specific and follow in
progression (see figure 4 for a representation of this approach), and that understanding
these are complementary approaches may be a more realistic way forward (see figure 5
for a representations of this approach).
Figure 4: Northern European Equality Timeline.
Source Christine Booth, ‘Gender Mainstreaming in the European Union: Toward a New Conception and
Practice of Equal Opportunities?’ Paper presented at ESRC Gender Mainstreaming Conference, University
of Leeds, 2003
1st Wave
1918 onwards
2nd Wave
1960 onwards
3rd Wave
1990 onwards
Equal Treatment
Equal rights &
Women’s Perspective
Equality of outcome
Separate institutional
Equal valuing of
Managing diversity
Figure 5: The ‘Equality Stool’
qual rights for women
and men
Value di
erence e
Value women’s di
Source Christine Booth, ‘Gender Mainstreaming in the European Union: Toward a New Conception and
Practice of Equal Opportunities?’ Paper presented at ESRC Gender Mainstreaming Conference, University
of Leeds, 2003
Nonetheless, anxieties remain about the positive action approach, which mean that many
advocates of gender equality would rather not rely upon it as a means to securing gender
equality at all. This anxiety manifests itself in relation to the issue of quotas in the form
of two central debates - the first of which focuses on the category of ‘women’, the second
focusing on the category of representation.
Gender quotas are designed to increase the number of female candidates and political
representatives. They work with the category of ‘women’ as a single entity. Yet there
are widely rehearsed theoretical and practical problems inherent in focusing on women
as a group. Black feminists, particularly in the US and Britain argued throughout the
1980s and 1990s that it is problematic to conceptualize women as a group: focusing
attention of the inequalities and differences between men and women tended to
marginalize the inequalities and differences among women (Collins 1990, Mohanty
1991, Spellman 1988). More recently, the poststructuralist critique of taking women as a
category has become influential. Here it is argued that taking women as a category will
close off intersectionality and fail to respond to the fluidity and mutability of social
identities. Adopting women as a category of political analysis and activism works to
inscribe and constitute the category rather than reflect and represent it (Brown 1995,
Butler 1990). They freeze contingent social relations into a false necessity (Young
1997:16). These arguments have not only had a significant impact on feminist theory
during recent years, but also appear to resonate with popular sentiments, which tend to
be individualist and hostile to group-based politics.
The continuity between some of the postmodern feminist theoretical perspectives
and the more populist articulations of individualism is a cause of worry for some. As Iris
Young notes, failing to conceptualize women as a collective obscures oppression as a
systematic, structured, institutional process and also fails to provide an alternative to
liberal individualism (Young 1997, p.17). Young therefore proposes that gender be
theorized as multiple, and that women be constituted as a group only in the political
context of struggle (Young 1997, p.21). Yet this theoretical move has offered few
practical resources to activists arguing for gender quotas, for it is simply not clear how in
practice one would implement quotas differently if one embraced this theoretical
perspective rather than a more straightforward ‘women-centred’ approach.
It is worth noting here that in the new Scottish Parliament, intensive lobbying by
women’s groups led to 48 out of 129 (37.2%) women being elected, but not a single
ethnic minority representative. Moreover, the recent debates about the need to increase
the level of female representation with Westminster paid little attention to the issue of
ethnic minority representation. During parliamentary debates about the introduction of
the Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates) Bill the issue of the representation of
ethnic minorities was regarded as of a different nature to the question of women’s
representation (Childs, 2002). It was suggested that devising mechanisms to ensure the
(s)election of ethnic minority MPs is more problematic than it is for women (for
example, defining who is ‘black’) and that there are large swathes of the UK where the
minority ethnic populations are too low to warrant representation (which begs the
question of whether ethnic minority MPs are only appropriate for areas with significant
minority ethnic populations).
This suggests that quota policies may indeed rely upon an undifferentiated
category of woman and fail to address the marginalization of groups other than women.
These are powerful reasons for being concerned about positive action measures, and
have encouraged many to fall back on equal treatment measures as more normatively
The discursive controversy surrounding gender quotas feeds into a second debate about
the relation between the descriptive and substantive representation of women. Many
advocates of gender quotas work with an assumption that quotas will improve not only
the descriptive representation of women, but also their substantive representation: that
they will result not only in higher levels of female representatives, but also are more
‘woman-friendly’ policy agenda. There is a presumption that ‘women are often best
represented by other women, as they have an understanding of what equality means for
them that is not available to men.’ (Williams 1998, p.13)
Yet, there are clear discrepancies between the descriptive and substantive
representation of women. The proportion of women in a parliament may rise whilst the
government ignores or is hostile to women’s issues. Examples of this include the
Mulroney government in Canada during the 1980s and early 1990s, or the current South
African government. As Lisa Young notes, Canada has witnessed massive cuts to an
array of women’s organizations: ‘In substantive terms, issues of importance to women
have all but disappeared from the policy agenda of government.’ (Young 2000, p.182)
Meanwhile Alexandra Dobrowolsky argues that: ‘At a time in Canadian history when
there are more women than ever in prominent political positions, inequalities are
growing rather than subsiding…’ (Dobrowolsky 2000, p.242).
So it is worth noting that research intended to establish women representatives are
more likely to act for women than male representatives, based on the 101 Labour women
MPs elected to Westminster in 1997, has been ambivalent on the connection between
descriptive and substantive representation. One study found that these female MPs had
been more loyal to the Blair government than their male counterparts, with the voting
records of the new intake Labour women MPs demonstrating that they voted
disproportionately with the government (Cowley 1999). This finding was taken to imply
that women had not ‘made a difference’. Another study found that the female MPs
themselves consider that they have substantively represented women since their election.
The women MPs felt that their presence in Parliament had enabled the articulation of a
feminized agenda in parliamentary debates, in select committees and in the Parliamentary
Labour Party’s women’s group (Childs 2001). However, it is probably fair to say that
this perception was not widely shared amongst the press or public, who remained
skeptical about the impact of ‘Blair’s Babes’.
Concern about the possible essentialism implied by quota policies, coupled with
skepticism that there was a link between descriptive and substantive representation,
meant that arguments for quotas in British political debates have tended to focus on a
‘justice’ argument, rather than arguments that women’s interests remain unfulfilled or
that democracy is likely to become atrophied (Phillips 1995, p.62-3; Phillips 1998, p.229-
238). The justice argument implies that numerically equal representation of women and
men in legislatures is itself an indication of parity, regardless of the beliefs of those
present or the policies enacted. The ‘interests’ argument holds that women need to enter
formal politics to work for women’s interests. Thus it is not presence alone, but the
decisions made and policies formulated that matter. The ‘democracy’ argument proposes
that women should enter into positions of power because they will engage in political
activity differently, revitalizing democracy and thereby improving the nature of the
public sphere.
This leads some theorists to question whether the substantive representation of all
women will ever really be secured through better access to existing structures of
representative politics. Many suggest that this aim actually requires a ‘sizeable infusion
of radical democracy’ (Dobrowolsky 2000, p.243). The suggestion here is that the focus
on quotas could divert attention from the need for more radical reform, from more
diverse kinds of democracy, whilst offering a kind of pseudo-legitimacy for existing
representative democracy. Or, to use Rees’s language, quota policies are tinkering and
tailoring, which divert attention from a transformative political agenda. If this is the
case, the focus on gender quotas might be counter-productive in relation to the broader
goal of increasing the substantive representation of women.
A third set of concerns concentrates on the nature of the political rather than the nature
of ‘woman’. Here it is argued that to focus attention of gender quotas is to focus one’s
attention squarely on the existing institutions of representative liberal democracy. It is to
seek gender equality within the existing institutions of politics. To focus one’s energies
on this strategy is to operate with a narrow and possibility impoverished and male-
defined conception of the political.
To focus on narrow gender equality policies (such as quotas, zipping, twinning,
women only-shortlists etc.) is to remain bound within a discourse of institutional politics
that propagates individualism, exclusivity, obfuscation, adversarialism and
confrontation. The aim of these policies is to secure gender parity in upper echelons of
political parties, ensuring that half the parliamentary or legislative body is female. This
ambition may be challenging and woefully difficult to achieve in practice, but some
critics charge that it still does not go far enough. It revolves around current institutional
political and liberal democratic constructs at a time when citizens are increasingly
calling for something more than the traditional institutions of democratic governance.
By contrast, advocates of deliberative democracy suggest that the idea of
democracy revolves around the transformation, rather than simply the aggregation, of
preferences (Squires 2002, p.134-6). The basic impulse behind deliberative democracy is
the notion that people will modify their perceptions of what society should do in the
course of discussing this with others. The point of democratic participation is to
manufacture, rather than to discover and aggregate, the common good. The ideal is one
of democratic decision-making arising from deliberative procedures that are inclusive and
Yet, the move to deliberative rather than representative democracy does not
overcome the need for a quotas debate. Women’s access to deliberative spaces will, as
some deliberative democrats accept, need to be ensured if the outcome of the
deliberations is to be just (Williams 2000, pp.124-6). However, the deliberative
democracy literature serves to remind us just how narrowly institutional and aggregative
current political systems are, and to encourage us to consider possibilities for the
transformation of political participation. It recommends, in other words, that one go
beyond tinkering or tailoring existing structures, to transform them.
Constitutional Change and Gender Mainstreaming
Because debates about women’s political representation have most frequently been
considered within the confines of existing political institutions, they have inevitably
tended to focus on the possibilities for tinkering or tailoring these institutions: they have
focused on equal opportunities or positive action in the form of gender quotas. They
have, in other words been faced with Wollstonecraft’s dilemma. As Joan Scott writes:
‘Feminism was a protest against women’s political exclusion; its goal was
to eliminate ‘sexual difference’ in politics, but it had to make its claims on
behalf of ‘woman’ (who were discursively produced through ‘sexual
difference’). To the extent that it acted for ‘women,’ feminism produced
the ‘sexual difference’ it sought to eliminate. This paradox-the need both
to accept and to refuse ‘sexual difference’--was the constitutive condition
of feminism as a political movement throughout its long history.’ (Scott
1996, pp.3-4)
It is in the context, that gender mainstreaming appears to offer invaluable critical
resources. It complements reactive gender equality policies, which address problems
resulting from a gender inequality or historical imbalance, by offering a strategy for
achieving gender equality by introducing a gender perspective into a given policy field
even though there may not be an obvious inequality. The Sex Discrimination (Election
Candidates) Act (2002) was a clear example of a ‘rule-and-exemption’ approach to
gender equality policy that emerges in response to the demand that one chooses between
equal treatment (in relation to norms that are structurally gender-biased) and positive
action (which posits sex as a given). By contrast, gender mainstreaming in relation to
women’s participation in political life requires that, over and above this important
legislative change, a broader strategy for achieving political gender equality be
developed. Mainstreaming here requires that the various values, interests and life
experiences of different groups of women be taken into account when mechanisms for
political participation are devised and practiced. To adopt a gender mainstreaming
strategy, as distinct from gender equality policies demands that we ask whether the
substantive representation of women will be secured through better access to existing
structures of representative politics, or whether we need to broaden out understanding of
democracy participation to include new, gender-sensitive forms of political practice.
Some feminist scholars have raised concerns about the shift to gender
mainstreaming, noting the difficulties involved in changing institutional practices (see
True 2003, Squires and Wickham Jones 2002). It is significant then, that constitutional
change provides a unique opportunity to pursue gender mainstreaming in relation to
political structures. Whereas campaigns to transform Westminster to make it more
women-friendly have largely come to nothing to date, the Scottish Parliament and Welsh
Assembly manifest clearer signs of mainstreaming having a discernible effect. The
establishment of devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales provide case studies for
what can be achieved when all three legs of the gender equality stool are employed in
relation to women’s political representation. Significantly, the achievements have been
impressive. As Fiona Mackay, Fiona Myers and Alice Brown state:
‘One of the most striking features of the post-1997 restructuring of the British
state has been the creation of a devolved Scottish parliament with initially 37 and
now 39.5 per cent female elected members - one of the highest proportions in the
world... the process of devolution has resulted not only in the re-negotiation of
powers between centre and sub-state nation or region, but also in the
redistribution of political power between the sexes.’ (Mackay, Myers and Brown
2003, p.84)
The high levels of women in the Scottish Parliament need to be understood in the context
of the adoption of positive action measures, especially twinning. But they also need to be
understood in the context of the mainstreaming strategies adopted by women in shaping
constitutional change. As Mackay, Myers and Brown make clear, ‘a coalition of
women’s organizations, grassroots activists, female trade unionists, party women, key
insiders and gender experts’ lobbied for a role in shaping a ‘women-friendly’ Scottish
Parliament that would ‘counteract the traditional masculinist biases of political
institutions’(Mackay, Myers and Brown 2003, p.85). Devolution campaigners, Mackay,
Myers and Brown suggest, aspired to a new, more inclusive, politics. In other words,
they adopted a strategy of gender mainstreaming, which resulted in the establishment of a
Parliament that took gendered perspectives into account in the policy-making process.
This means, for example, that the parliament meets at times that acknowledge the
demands of family life and the timetable of school holidays (Mackay, Myers and Brown
2003, p.88). Not only does the Executive of the Scottish Parliament adopt a
mainstreaming approach (Mackay and Bilton, 2000), it is itself a product of this
approach. Yet one should note that equal opportunities and positive action still play a
central role: positive action in the form of twinning was the single most important factor
in ensuring high levels of female representation, and equal opportunities remains one of
the four key principles of the Parliament. The constitutional change that resulted from
the restructuring of the British state suggests that the fastest track to gender equality will
entail not only the adoption of gender quotas, but also the embrace of gender
mainstreaming in relation to the shaping of the political institutions themselves.
Quotas might helpfully be understood as a form of positive action. They can then be
understood in the context of three equality strategies: equal treatment, positive action and
mainstreaming. Many of the concerns about quotas are specific manifestations of a more
general normative anxiety about positive action. Given that many gender theorists are now
exploring the potential of gender mainstreaming as a new and improved equality strategy, it
might be worth considering what a mainstreaming strategy might entail in relation to
political representation.
Here the aim would not be to ensure that women are treated equally in the selection
and election process (as with an equal treatment approach), nor to ensure that women’s
disadvantage be addressed via quotas policies (as with a positive action approach). Rather,
the aim would be to consider gender relations in relation to the design, implementation,
monitoring and evaluation of political practices so that women and men benefit equally and
inequality is not perpetuated. The argument would not be that women might ‘do’ politics
differently and so should be present in greater numbers, but that politics should be
conceived otherwise in order that women as well as men can participate equally.
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Quotas – a Key to Equality?
An International Comparison of the Use of Electoral Quotas to obtain Equal Political Citizenship for
A research program supported by the Swedish Research Council (Vetenskapsrådet).
This project is the first worldwide comparative analysis of the discursive controversies around quotas and of
the actual implementation of various quota systems. Under this program we will study 1) the debates in
various countries around the world, 2) the decision-making processes that led to the introduction of
quotas, 3) the implementation of various types of legal quota systems or party quotas systems in different
political systems and 4) the consequences of quotas, the intended as well as the unintended. Under what
conditions do quota systems contribute to the stated goal, equal political citizenship for women and men?
When do quotas contribute to women's empowerment?
Quotas represent a change in public equality policy, from “equal opportunities” to “equality of results”. But
quotas also touches upon fundamental questions in democratic theory (e.g. social representation versus
representation of ideas) and in feminist theory (e.g. the construction of women as a political category).
This program will also look at the influence of international organizations. Conceptual, we focus on the
processes of "translation", e.g. how the women's movements in individual countries transform and make use
of the new international discourse on quotas in their own national political process.
Research on quotas so far has tended to concentrate on the often vehement debates and on the actual
decisions-making process. This program will widen the perspective, and also study the troublesome
implementation of quotas and the effects of various forms of quota provisions. From single country studies
we know, that the introduction of for instance a requirement of a minimum of 30% of women (or "each
gender") on the electoral lists does not automatically lead to women getting 30% of the seats. Thus by
comparing the use of various forms of quotas provisions in different electoral systems as well as possible
sanctions for non-compliance, this project will illuminate when quota systems lead to a substantial increase
in women's representation and when such decisions remain symbolic.
The project co-operates with International IDEA. The web site, is a result of the co-
operation between IDEA and this program.
The Quota Research Team at the Department of Political Science.
Address: Stockholm University, S-10691 Stockholm, Sweden. Fax +46 8152529.
Home page:
Drude Dahlerup, professor, leader of the program.
Lenita Freidenval, Ph.D. candidate, (The Nordic countries)
Christina Alnevall, Ph.D. candidate, (Latin America)
Anja Taarup Nordlund, research assistant, (Balkan)
Emma Frankl, master student, (Bangladesh)
International research network
For the purpose of cross-national comparison, this program has formed a network of international scholars
who have conducted single country studies about the introduction of quotas. Together with International
IDEA, the program also works to encourage new research on quotas around the world, especially in
countries with newly introduced quota systems.
Working Paper Series
Nordlund, Taarup, Anja: International Implementation of Electoral Gender Quotas in
the Balkans – A Fact-Finding Report.
Fridenvall, Lenita: Women’s Political Representation and Gender Quotas – the
Swedish Case.
Squires, Judith: Gender Quotas in Britain: A Fast Track to Equality?
Department of Political Science
STOCKHOLM UNIVERSITY, SE-106 91 Stockholm, Sweden
Phone +46 8 16 20 00, Fax +46 8 15 25 29,
Gender Quotas in Britain: A Fast Track to Equality?
Judith Squires
Working Paper Series 2004:1
The Research Program
on Gender Quotas
... Qualitative research, on the other hand, conducts interviews to track whether political issues and styles of debate have shifted following the sudden influx of women in the late 1990s ; questionnaires to reveal the constraints of motherhood on women's full participation in parliamentary life ; discourse analysis to examine how often and in what ways female MPs intervene in parliamentary debates on issues of direct concern to women ; and process-tracing to piece together the multiple trajectories of actors and events that meet to produce the passage of bills promoting women's interests . Studies of political parties and women's organizations, in contrast, focus more exclusively on women's descriptive representation by tracking debates inside the parties on quota adoption and implementation at distinct levels of government Bradbury et al., 2000;Edwards and McAllister, 2002;Squires, 2004;Lovenduski, 2005) and moments in time (Lovenduski and Randall, 1993;, as well as activities of women's groups to pressure parties to select more female candidates Dobrowolsky, 2002;. Given the small sample size, as well as the more contingent nature of these events, few analyses in this research area make use of surveys or statistical analysis. ...
Full-text available
Recent methods textbooks contain chapters of sections on feminism as an approach to political research. Feminist scholars themselves, however, often express great ambivalence towards the possibility of presenting one single feminist perspective within political science. In fact, many treat methodologies as ‘justificatory strategies’ and simply employ those most suited to addressing the particular issue at hand. In this sense, we argue, there is no distinctive feminist methodology, but there is a distinctive feminist approach to methodology and methods. More specifically, feminist research is driven by substantive political problems and is thus open to the deployment of a broad range of methodological frames. To establish this claim, we survey the recent research produced by feminist political scientists on gender quotas in British politics, paying close attention to the specific approaches and methods applied by individual scholars. We discover a distinctive willingness on the part of feminists to employ various theoretical frames and to explore possibilities for synthesizing or juxtaposing methods in innovative ways. Rather than perceiving this to be a weakness, undermining any notion of an overarching ‘feminist’ perspective, we suggest that this methodological eclecticism is a strength, signalling the ability of feminist researchers to produce multifaceted research findings. Indeed, recent feminist work on British politics should be taken as a model of good practice in political research.British Politics (2006) 1, 44–66. doi:10.1057/palgrave.bp.4200002
... At the same time, they alleviate, at least to a certain degree, the tendency for women not to stand for political office, even when they deem themselves very qualified to run (Fox and Lawless 2004), by signaling the availability of constituency and list slots to women in particular. Although surveys in many countries continue to find that women become candidates primarily as a result of being asked to run, while men become can-didates as a result of wanting a political career, many "quota women" nonetheless stay on beyond their initial tenure and pursue longer-term political ambitions (Goetz and Hassim 2003;Squires 2004). While discussions about gender quotas often center around their possible negative implications, therefore, evidence from a range of cases reveals a number of important positive externalities, largely unanticipated at the moment of quota reform. ...
What country currently boasts the highest percentage of women in parliamentary office? If you ask most people, they will guess one of the Nordic countries: Sweden, Norway, Finland, or Denmark. These guesses are close in one sense but very far off in another. The answer is Rwanda. As of this writing, women make up nearly half of the members of the Rwandan Chamber of Deputies—48.8% according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union (2005b). Most people find this answer surprising. Sadly, we tend to associate Rwanda with the genocide of 1994 rather than with gender equality. What has put Rwanda in the number one spot on the list of women in elective office, an important indicator of women's equality. © 2006, The Women and Politics Research Section of the American Political Science Association. All rights reserved.
This paper analyzes how the number of female managers at top positions affects other male or female workers in the workplace. We use mergers and acquisitions as a natural experiment. When a firm with few top female managers acquires another firm with many top female managers, workers in the acquiring firm suddenly face more top female managers. In such a case, this paper finds that other female workers in the acquiring firm become less likely to quit after the acquisition, but male workers become more likely to quit. In contrast, if the number of top male managers increases, female workers do not seem to care, while male workers become less likely to quit. This result suggests that gender policies such as gender quotas will help female workers as intended, but will negatively affect male workers. We distinguish whether top female managers are within the same occupation or in different occupations, and also analyze the number (or share) of female supervisors at one rank above, or the relative number of female workers below one's own rank. These analyses help us distinguish different theoretical explanations.
Full-text available
We study workers’ reactions to changes in the gender composition of top management during a merger or acquisition, finding that an increase in the number of female top managers within their occupation makes male workers more likely to quit, and female workers less likely to quit. These effects vary across occupations, depending on the female share, and male workers’ aversion to female managers is strongest when the female share nears fifty percent. The effects also vary over time and with age, becoming smaller in more recent years and among younger males, but increase with education level. We find little evidence that these preferences are driven by pecuniary effects.
Full-text available
Studies carried out in many countries in previous decades found that women were more conservative than men and less likely to participate in politics. Here, it is examined whether this traditional gender gap persists today, or whether gender cleavages in the electorate have converged, and whether the phenomenon of the modern gender gap, with women more left wing, has become evident elsewhere. The article draws on evidence from the World Values Surveys in the early 1980s, and the early and mid-1990s carried out in over sixty countries around the world. This study establishes that gender differences in electoral behavior have been realigning, with women moving toward the left of men throughout advanced industrial societies (though not in postcommunist societies or developing countries) and explores the reasons for this development, including the role of structural and cultural factors. The conclusion considers the political implications of the findings.
This article sets out to ascertain what can be done to provide better, more substantive, representation for all women. It begins by discussing the representation of women as a group, then critically assesses various reform proposals, including the suggestions of advocates of group-based representation. Such recommendations, it is argued, tend to fall short, as they build on limited liberal democratic theories and practices. In contrast, this article makes a case for more and different kinds of democracy. What is required is a synthesis of the conventional and non-conventional, where liberal democracy is transformed by an infusion of radical democratic potential. A greater and more formal role for social movements in policy discussion and the decision-making process, a politics based on inclusion and intersecting identities, is contemplated through illustrations from Canada and abroad.
Constitutional change has transformed the political voice and role of women in Scotland. One of the most striking features of the post-1997 restructuring of the British state has been the creation of a devolved Scottish parliament with initially 37 and now 39.5 per cent female elected members — one of the highest proportions in the world.1 Furthermore, under the parliament’s power-sharing model, there are increased opportunities for women as citizens to participate in policy development.