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Gender Quotas in the United States

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Social Policy
Wordcount: 1831 words Published: 16th Apr 2019

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More than 130 countries around the world have enacted various forms of gender quotas, to ensure a certain number of those running for or holding legislative office are women. These quotas have become the governments form of ensuring diversity and equal opportunity for both sexes. Increasing the number of women in these legislative positions has become a central priority for women’s movements and for governments around the world. Democracy is the practice or principles of social equality, and so critics have claimed that by enforcing these quotas, we are relinquishing the true definition of what it means to be a democracy. Moreover, that we would then be promoting the essentialist views of women. However, from the conception of American politics legislation has and continues to strictly promote patriarchal viewpoints. Although there are no guarantees that a quota will be fulfilled, doing so could in fact promote the change that so many wish to achieve.

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On June 4th, 1919, the 19th amendment was passed to the United States Constitution, which aimed to grant women the right to vote. One year later in 1920, the 19th amendment was ratified, which officially granted women the right to vote. (History.com Staff, 2010) That same year, the League of Women’s Voters was founded by the members of the National American Woman Suffrage Association as a means of encouraging informed participation by the new female electorate. In the 102 years since women were granted the right to vote, the United States is still lacking adequate female representation in legislation. (History.com Staff, 2009) For example, in lecture we learned, currently there are eighteen representatives in the state of Pennsylvania, none of which are women. As of 2018, women hold 106 of 535 (19.8%) of the seats on a congressional level. In state legislature, women hold 1,875 of the 7,383 (25.4%) seats, which include state senate and state house/assembly. (Center for American Women and Politics , 2018) Perhaps a call to action is well warranted, despite the advancement our government has made in the last century, there is still much room for improvement.

The countries that have adopted quotas do so by way of reserved seats, candidate quotas, and political party quotas. Candidate quotas seem to be most commonly used, requiring each political party to ensure a minimum percent of female candidates. A political party quota or voluntary party candidate quota, is a method of choice to have a certain percent of female candidates. (Paxton & Hughes, 2016) These quotas are monitored through the political parties themselves and enforced by those running the campaign. Lastly, reserved seats demand’s an exact percent of women to be elected into office. With this system in place, regardless of the amount of candidates there will always be a place for women. Reserved seat quotas have become the least popular option due to its seemingly anti-democratic stand point. However, countries such as Rwanda, Afghanistan, and Jordan, have adopted this view point mainly due to their statuses as a constitutional monarchy and republic, rather than a democracy. (Paxton & Hughes, 2016)

Regardless of their republican multiparty system, Rwanda has become the only country in the world to successfully have more women than men as elected legislators. (Bennett, 2014) This small country in Africa was mainly known for its violence and civil war. In the early 90’s racialists wiped out almost one million people in just one-hundred days. After which time this nation was comprised of over seventy percent women. Most of the men were either killed or imprisoned, or had left the nation. Prior to this genocide there were 780 judges, out of those only twenty survived. Leaving the country with limited choices, in 2003, the Rwandan government made an amendment to their constitution, to include reserved seating quotas for women in all tiers of government. Therefore, minimally 30 percent of representatives must be women including parliament. (Bennett, 2014) With however, the stipulation that only women could vote for these women only positions. Since this implementation, as late as 2013, the number of women in office has well surpassed the initial 30 percent, and has risen to a high of 64 percent. (Bennett, 2014). For a small country such as Rwanda, mainly known for its violence, to come this far in just two decades speaks volumes.

Regardless of the quota system a nation has in place, quotas can ensure that congress fully reflects the populace in which it represents. If a parliament is predominantly male, like the United States, it can become difficult to continue to gain support for all political decisions. For example, Belgium passed the Tobback-Smet act that ensured gender equity not only in politics but in business as well. Like Rwanda, Belgium ensured its citizens that at least one third of their representatives, will come from the least represented gender populous, women. Quotas in any fashion aide in the rectification of the under-representation of women in leading positions, and can create a sense of normalcy for women to have these roles in economic and political systems. (OECD Observer , 2015)

The largest step towards adequate representation of women and men, have occurred in ballots where quotas (voluntary or otherwise) have been enacted. For most, a male-dominated political system is viewed as the central hurdle towards women’s election and nomination. By enacting quotas, this obstacle is surpassed, forcing governments to find suitable female candidates. (Paxton & Hughes, 2016) Another reason why very little women run for office is in large part due to the lack of female representation in politics. If certain quotas boost the current percent of women elected, perhaps more women will follow suit. In a patriarchal political system, parties will inevitably tend to elect fewer women than men. Research shows, female political leaders are more likely to push for legislation that could potentially dismantle barriers for more women candidates. If the American people believe there are just as much competent female legislators in their country as their male counterparts, perhaps that would provide the proper motivation to run. (Paxton & Hughes, 2016) The use of quotas is not intended for discriminatory purpose; however, they could additionally combat the preexisting discriminate notions. With an enforcement to that magnitude there is a greater possibility of changing the viewpoints of society, proving once and for all that women are in fact qualified to hold leading positions.

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There is no shortage of opponents towards enforcing a gendered quota system in the United States. These critics pull from all of the various nations that have already enacted this political notion. Some nations although they have enacted gender quotas, create political loopholes to work around actually having to adhere to the laws in place. Other arguments say that these quotas systems are simply cosmetic and that they cannot actually change the current cultural factors that have been in place for centuries. (Paxton & Hughes, 2016) Just because there are thresholds, does not always guarantee that the number of qualified women will actually run for office. For example, the French parity laws, have consecutively under produced levels of female representation that have been law enforced. Other countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, have also adopted these laws, and the percent of female representatives as actually decreased. (OECD Observer , 2015)

Requiring a certain amount of women can also lead to various forms of discrimination. For instance, if the United States were to suddenly adopt quotas, men could argue that the only reason they received such a high position was due to the law, and not on their own merits. Quotas unfortunately, cannot always guarantee that the nominees will always be women. Another weak point can be found in the enforcement differences of quotas. For example, in Panama, there is currently a gender quota, but those that uphold this, simply do it in good faith. If there are no worthy advisories to be found, then no harm no foul. (Paxton & Hughes, 2016) Being that women residing in gender quota countries, run for office in their own arena (only against other women), some would argue that, this is also an unequal system. Moreover, that they would never be competing with men any way, creating a two tier separate but equal system.

Gender quotas in politics have been enforced in more than 130 countries within the last fifteen years. Through this process the positive outcomes have well surpassed the ideologies of its critics. In the United States, women have been grossly underrepresented in today’s politics, for a menagerie of reasons. Mostly due to the heteropatriarchal capitalist system that has been in place, and in enforced since the Declaration of Independence. If America were to enforce gender quotas, perhaps this could pave the way for a more diverse female representation for years to come. Only then can this nation truly call itself a democracy, because the ways in which this country is run has consistently proven to be one sided. Getting women in office will show other women like them that it is in fact possible to run for office and create change in policy. Quotas are not a fix all, nor are they a guarantee, however change must start somewhere.


  • Bennett, E. (2014, August 15). Rwanda Strides Towards Gender Equality in Government. Retrieved from KENNEDY SCHOOL REVIEW: http://ksr.hkspublications.org/2014/08/15/rwanda-strides-towards-gender-equality-in-government/
  • Center for American Women and Politics . (2018). Current Numbers: Overview fact sheet (summary information on all levels of office). Retrieved from http://www.cawp.rutgers.edu/: http://www.cawp.rutgers.edu/current-numbers
  • History.com Staff. (2009). Women’s Suffrage. (A. Networks, Producer) Retrieved from history.com: https://www.history.com/topics/womens-history/the-fight-for-womens-suffrage
  • History.com Staff. (2010). 19th Amendment. (A. Networks, Producer) Retrieved from History.com: https://www.history.com/topics/womens-history/19th-amendment
  • OECD Observer . (2015). Why quotas work for gender equality. Retrieved from http://oecdobserver.org/: http://oecdobserver.org/news/fullstory.php/aid/4891/Why_quotas_work_for_gender_equality.html
  • Paxton, P., & Hughes, M. M. (2016). “Quotas”Pp 169-200  in Women, Politics and Power: A Global Perspective (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publication.


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