Gender and In/Equality

“There are numerous obstacles to women’s political participation,” according to the Quota Project (2015). While women’s participation in decision-making bodies in business and politics has increased, progress has been “slow and uneven” (Quota Project, 2015). Globally, women hold just over 23 percent of parliamentary seats (World Bank, 2017). To address this inequity, 118 countries globally have implemented gender quotas in the political arena (Poverty Action Lab, 2018), most in the last 20 years (Pande & Ford, 2011). There are primarily three types of quotas: voluntary quotas by political parties, which promise to nominate a certain percentage of female candidates; candidate quotas that reserve a certain number of candidate positions for women by law; and reserved seats, positions for which only female candidates can compete. Most Western countries, with the notable exception of the United States, have implemented quotas (Pande & Ford, 2011).

India’s constitution, since 1993, has required that the leader position in one-third of village councils (known as Gram Panchayat) be reserved for women. Studies have found that quotas in India have increased not only female leadership but also the likelihood that female constituents will speak at council meetings. Female leadership has also led to greater investment in outcomes favored by women in the local community. Two often-affected areas are water infrastructure and education. Researchers have also found that in villages where leader positions are reserved for women, over time men exhibit less gender bias against women and are more likely to vote for female leaders even when quotas are not in effect (Pande & Ford, 2011). Researchers have sounded an important note of caution: male incumbents and political leaders often try to circumvent gender quotas or exploit loopholes to undermine their effectiveness.

Opportunity for Research

Drude Dahlerup (2015), professor of political science at Stockholm University, Sweden, noted that “the result of introducing quotas should be studied quantitatively as well as qualitatively.” With this in mind, consider the following: What have been the effects of gender quotas across various settings in government and business? Have quotas for corporate boards in Norway, for example, proven effective? How are policies best designed to effectively increase women’s leadership? One good resource to begin your research is the Gender Quota Database maintained by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (


Dahlerup, D. (2015). About Quotas. Quota Project. Retrieved from

Pande, R., & Ford, D. (2011, April 7). Gender Quotas and Female Leadership: A Review.

Background Paper for the World Development Report on Gender. Retrieved from

Poverty Action Lab. (2018, April). Improving women’s representation in politics through gender quotas. Retrieved from

Quota Project. (2015). About the Project. Retrieved from

World Bank. (2017). Proportion of seats held by women in national parliaments. Retrieved from

Back to top