Abdulgader Bashir

Part 5: Electoral remedies for under-representation

In this section, we will discuss the most common tool used to increase women's reprentation in goverment. 


Quotas are a successful and fast way to increase women’s representation in governing bodies. [i] A quota means that there is a fixed share for women in a candidate list, a parliamentary assembly, a committee, or government.[ii] As an affirmative action policy, quotas are designed to help women overcome the obstacles that prevent them from being elected, such as political experience, cultural stereotypes, or even incumbency.

There are different types of quotas. Electoral gender quotas range from legal quotas introduced by constitutional amendments, changing electoral laws or voluntary party quotas that political parties set within their own party rules. Legislated candidate quotas require that a minimum number of candidates come from the under-represented sex. This type of quota is usually binding to all parties that intend to contest parliamentary seats. Legislated candidate quotas give the state the opportunity to enforce sanctions to compel political parties to abide by the adopted standard. 

Reserved seat quotas stipulate the number of women or representatives of an under-represented group to be elected to legislative bodies. Reserved seats are the least-used quota type globally, but they are increasingly used in Africa and South-East Asia. Voluntary party quotas  are targets set by political parties to include a certain percentage of women as candidates. These kinds of quotas are increasingly popular in European countries.

In Africa, mainly countries transitioning from war to peace  adopted quotas and witnessed a significant rise in women's political representation in parliamentary assemblies. In 2008, following the Comprehensive Peace Agreement which ended Africa’s longest civil war, Sudan adopted a quota which reserved 25% of the seats in the national and sub-national legislative assemblies for women. After the December revolution, the 2019 Constitutional Charter promised the appointment of at least 40% women to the national assembly, but these appointments were never made before the military hijacked the democratic transition.

Although quotas may fast-track women into political office, the literature highlights potential drawbacks as well. 

1) There is evidence of backlash on women, often referred to as label effects, which generates athe perception that the group benefiting from quotas lack the necessary qualifications for office. This can discourage women from running for office or associating them only with feminist interests.  In Tanzania, women voted into office through quotas report like ‘second-class’ MPs whose work is not properly recognized.[iii] Female legislators in Argentina believe that the quota law resulted in their political professionalism being called into question,[iv] and female MPs in the UK elected via their party’s all-women shortlists experienced lingering stigmatization.[v] 

2)  If the use of quotas is not well thought through, there is a risk that only women belonging to certain groups benefit from the arrangement. This is especially evident in, authoritarian regimes where the introduction of quotas most often lead to the election of candidates from prominent families—not women from marginalized groups or classes.[vi] In the Sudanese context, women who almost exclusively belonged to the Islamist National Congress Party were elected through the quota.

3)Quotas do not address underlying causes of gender inequality. Sometimes quotas act as an upper limit for women’s representation. In practice it can be very hard to get the number of representatives beyond the recommended quota level.[vii]

Most research suggests that quota-elected women are active in the process of substantive representation, while policy outcomes often prove harder to achieve.[viii] Where quota campaigns generate mandates, improved substantive representation as process is likely. Yet gender quotas cannot change the institutional rules and norms that govern the legislative process, meaning that quotas cannot guarantee improvements in substantive representation as outcome.

As more and more authoritarian regimes reserve large shares of parliamentary seats for women, the number of women in parliament is no longer a reliable indicator of level of democracy.

The effect of quotas on women’s symbolic representation, however, is mixed. Zetterberg (2009) finds that quotas neither raise women’s political knowledge or interest.[x] Kittilson and Schwindt-Bayer (2012) find few effects for quotas’ impact on women’s political engagement.[xi] In sub-Saharan Africa, Barnes and Bouchard (2012) find that women’s political engagement responds to concrete increases in women’s descriptive representation not just the adoption of quotas.[xii] Clayton (2015) finds that the quota law in Lesotho reduced women’s local political engagement.[xiii]


Gendered Electoral Financing (GEF)

There are, however, other mechanisms available to countries interested in achieving parity.  Since women’s access to resources significanly affects their representation, some countries use financial interventions in the form of gendered electoral financing schemes to increase women’s political representation.[xiv] These funding schemes either reward or punish parties for complying with rules regarding the level or number of women on their lists (party directed financing).[xv] France, for example, requires all parties to field equal numbers of men and women in legislative elections.[xvi] Other financing schemes target individual women to encourage them to run for office (candidate directed). An example of this is Malawi’s 50-50 campaign, which targets female aspirants and candidates.[xvii]


Through quotas, women have overcome obstacles that prevent them from being elected to political office. Because of quotas, African countries (in contrast to the Scandinavian countries which for long were ranked first) are now at the forefront of the statistics in terms of women’s political representation and . There is a growing literature pointing out the potential pitfalls of quotas, but although it is not a perfect solution to women’s under representation it remain the most important, effective and most frequently used mechanism available.



[i] Paxton, P., & Hughes, M. M. (2015). The increasing effectiveness of national gender quotas, 1990–2010Legislative studies quarterly40(3), 331-362; Krook, M. L., Lovenduski, J., & Squires, J. (2009). Gender quotas and models of political citizenshipBritish Journal of Political Science39(4), 781-803.

[ii] Dahlerup, D. (2013). Women, quotas and politics. Routledge.

[iii] Yoon, M. Y. (2016). Beyond quota seats for women in the Tanzanian legislature. Canadian Journal of African Studies/Revue canadienne des études africaines50(2), 191-210.

[iv] Franceschet, S., & Piscopo, J. M. (2008). Gender quotas and women's substantive representation: Lessons from Argentina. Politics & Gender4(3), 393-425.

[v] Childs, S., & Krook, M. L. (2012). Labels and mandates in the United Kingdom. The impact of gender quotas, 89-102.

[vi] Hughes, M. M. (2011). Intersectionality, quotas, and minority women's political representation worldwide. American Political Science Review105(3), 604-620.

[vii] Dahlerup D & Freidenvall, L 2005, ‘Quotas as a ‘fast track’ to equal representation for women; Why Scandinavia is no longer the model’, International Feminist Journal of Politics, vol. 7, no. 1, pp. 26-48.

[viii] Clayton, A. (2021). How Do Electoral Gender Quotas Affect Policy?Annual Review of Political Science24, 235-252.

[ix] Franceschet, S., & Piscopo, J. M. (2008). Gender quotas and women's substantive representation: Lessons from Argentina. Politics & Gender4(3), 393-425.

[x] Zetterberg, P. (2009). Do gender quotas foster women’s political engagement? Lessons from Latin AmericaPolitical Research Quarterly62(4), 715-730.

[xi] Kittilson, M. C., & Schwindt-Bayer, L. A. (2012). The gendered effects of electoral institutions: Political engagement and participation. Oxford University Press.

[xii] Barnes, Tiffany D., and Stephanie M. Burchard. 2012. ‘Engendering Politics’: The Impact of Descriptive Representation on Women’s Political Engagement in Sub-Saharan Africa. Comparative Political Studies 46 (7): 767–790.

[xiii] Clayton, A. (2015). Women’s political engagement under quota-mandated female representation: Evidence from a randomized policy experiment. Comparative Political Studies48(3), 333-369.

[xiv] The financial incentives used to spark women’s interest in running for office, that can be used in addition to or instead of quotas (Muriaas 2020).  Money can either be given to women candidates themselves or to political parties (Muriaas, Mazur, Hoard 2021).

[xv] Murray, R., Muriaas, R., & Wang, V. (2021). Editorial introduction: Gender and political financingInternational Political Science Review.

[xvi] Ibid, p. 2

[xvii] Ibid. p. 3.


Additional Open Access Resources

  1. Personalism or party platform? Gender quotas and women’s representation under different electoral system orientations

  2. Gender-targeted financing for political parties 
  3. Quotas: a quick guide