CAREER: Gender Quotas and Women's Political Representation

Project Details


The past two decades have witnessed unprecedented gains in women's access to elected office. This trend has occurred in all major regions of the world, largely as a result of the adoption of gender quota policies aimed at increasing the number of women selected as political candidates. The recent and global nature of these developments has sparked both scholarly and popular interest. The expanding literature on gender quotas, however, focuses almost exclusively on questions of design, adoption, and numerical impact. Yet, even a cursory look at quota campaigns reveals that these measures are not simply linked to concerns to increase the numbers of women elected. Advocates suggest that such provisions will increase diversity among the types of women elected, raise attention to women?s issues in policy-making processes, change the gendered nature of the public sphere, and inspire female voters to get more politically involved. In contrast, opponents express concerns that quotas will facilitate the election of 'unqualified' women, bring women to office with little interest in promoting women's concerns, reinforce stereotypes about women's inferiority as political actors, and deter ordinary women's political participation. Despite their prevalence in quota debates, the empirical validity of these claims has not yet been systematically addressed. By extension, the potential ramifications of quotas for other political processes are not yet well-understood.

Building on my previous work on gender quotas and women's political representation, this study develops and tests a series of hypotheses regarding quota impact via a large-n dataset of quota campaigns and in-depth case studies in three regions of the world: Western Europe, Latin America, and Sub-Saharan Africa. The investigation is organized around three major facets of political representation: descriptive representation, or the basic attributes of those elected; substantive representation, or attention to group interests in policy-making; and symbolic representation, or the cultural meanings and ramifications of the representative process. Placing questions of representation at the center of analysis does not simply offer a chance to determine whether quotas produce the consequences anticipated by supporters or those feared by opponents. It also provides an entry for (1) assessing whether quotas constitute a step forward for democracy and for women, or alternatively, serve to perpetuate existing patterns of domination and inequality, and (2) exploring how these reforms speak to a variety of literatures in political science by investigation how electoral reforms like gender quotas affect trends in candidate recruitment, legislative behavior, and public opinion and mass mobilization.

The project also seeks to have a broader impact through an integrated program of research, educational, and outreach activities. It will produce scholarly publications, as well as seek to incorporate a wide range of participants and communicate the results to an audience of researchers, policy-makers, and advocates through workshops, collaborative research, a project website, and a new international network of scholars and activists. Two major aspirations are (1) to mentor a new generation of researchers at various stages of their professional development, as well as (2) to help actors 'on the ground' better understand the positive and negative consequences of gender quotas, with an eye to empowering them with knowledge that can be used to better realize the original aspirations of these reforms. These activities aim to contribute to wider policy debates regarding relationships between quotas, democracy, and women?s empowerment, thereby ensuring the lasting impact of the project beyond the five years of the award while also establishing a solid foundation for a productive and creative scholarly career.

Effective start/end date9/1/128/31/17


  • National Science Foundation: $432,860.00


Explore the research topics touched on by this project. These labels are generated based on the underlying awards/grants. Together they form a unique fingerprint.