Electoral quotas for women: an international overview

Women Elections Australia

This paper provides an overview of recent global trends in women’s political representation. It describes the different types of gender quotas that have been adopted, and summarises the various arguments for and against their use, as well as key issues and observations about the impact of quotas drawing on recent international research. The paper concludes with an examination of the current status of electoral gender quotas in Australia, and presents a comparative survey of quota systems in Commonwealth countries including Australia (Appendix 3).

Executive summary

  • Less than one in five parliamentarians across the world are women. Legal or voluntary electoral gender quotas are used in more than half of the world’s countries as the most effective mechanism for increasing women’s political representation.
  • Electoral quotas have gained international support and have proven to be effective in ‘fast-tracking’ women’s political representation to produce equality of results, not just equality of opportunity.
  • Their introduction has been controversial in some countries, particularly in liberal democracies where critics oppose them on the basis that they discriminate against men and undermine the selection of candidates or parliamentarians on the basis of merit.
  • Gender quota systems differ in type and application. The main systems in use are reserved seats, legal candidate quotas, and voluntary political party quotas.
  • The success of gender quotas is influenced by various factors including the nature of the political system, the type of electoral or voting system, the type of quota system adopted, cultural attitudes towards the role of women in society, and the nature of the parliamentary environment itself.
  • In 2012 the Australian Government committed $320 million to support a 10-year initiative to ‘empower women and to promote gender equality in the Pacific’ region, which has the world’s lowest proportion of women parliamentarians.
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