Many countries have introduced gender quotas (or political reservations), in order to increase female participation in policy-making. This helpdesk report surveys research on the effects of political quotas for women on (1.) political processes; (2.) service delivery; and (3.) social processes. There is limited empirical evidence on these issues and research that does exist has mixed findings. These are some of the key effects cited:
Effects on political processes
- Individual level changes: female politicians may develop confidence and competency through their experience in office.
- Mass participation: the presence of women in political institutions can encourage the political engagement of women constituents and citizens more generally.
- Political attention to women’s interests: quota systems have in some cases resulted in an increase in women’s themes on the political agenda.
- Gender equity and empowerment: changes in the agenda and the introduction of bills concerning women’s issues do not necessarily translate into policy gains for women as a group.
Effects on service delivery and human development outcomes
Chattopadhyay and Duflo’s well-cited study (2003 and 2004) of village level councils in West Bengal and Rajasthan in India reveals that reservation policies increased investment in public services and infrastructure favoured by women in areas where the leadership position was reserved for a woman. Other studies, however, have found no effect or less of an effect.
Effects on social processes
- Changes in attitudes about women and gender discrimination: in some cases, quotas and the presence of women in politics have countered negative stereotypes of women.
- Changes in use of time: improved provision of water reduces women’s time spent on household work, allowing them to participate in labour markets.
- Violence and crime: female political representation at the local level in India has contributed to greater reporting of crimes by women and improved responsiveness of law enforcement officials to crimes against women.
Lessons learned include the need for quota systems to:
- Have a set of clear and precise norms and procedures, based on a legal framework; and clearly defined sanctions for non-compliance
- Be accompanied with information and communication initiatives; and capacity building for women representatives
- Be accompanied with efforts to transform patriarchal structures and cultural norms.