Where does the US stand on gender quotas?

By Cynthia Terrell on July 08, 2016

By Maddie Kane

Nausheen Khan’s article, titled “Women’s Political Representation: Where Are We Today?”, is a retrospective piece that looks at the progress and potential of women’s representation from the last 20 years at a global level. She primarily focuses on quantitative research to show that we still have a tremendous amount of work in order to reach Goal 3 of the Millennium Development Goals

(Promote gender equality and empower women). Target 3.3 of those goals comments on the “proportion of seats held by women in national parliament” (MDG Report, 2015). Globally, we have almost doubled the percentage of women’s representation in government in the last two decades, a great accomplishment, but yet at a more micro level, many countries, particularly the United States, still lag behind others. She attributes this falling behind to the United States’ lack of a “quota system” which many other nations have adopted.

The quota system is active in 120 countries and is empirically very effective. More than half of the countries in the world today use some sort of an electoral quota system, whether it is for geographical, ethnic or gender diversification. These quotas are a very debated topic and come in three basic forms: reserved seats, legal candidate quotas, and political party quotas. Khan explains that “reserved seats regulate the number of women elected, the other two forms set a minimum for the share of women on the candidate lists, either as a legal requirement or a measure written into the statutes of individual political parties”.


Rwanda and many Nordic countries lead the polls in women’s representation, prompting one to ask, why? What are they doing differently than the United States and how can we change our ways to be more representative of our population like they have? Both of these countries have an effective quota system which breaks down barriers for women so that they can be more active participants in their government. In fact, in Rwanda voters surpassed their quota to achieve a perfect balance of gender parity. How have they been able to do this but we have not?


However, this quota system must be looked at in a larger political context because alone it will be somewhat ineffective. We must look at the electoral process as a whole in order to understand what is keeping these women from their positions of power and find structural solutions to barriers they face. FairVote advocates for ranked choice voting as a possible solution to lack of women in politics. This electoral system would compliment a quota system and the two would work simultaneously to ensure that our country’s governing body is as diverse as our actual population. We cannot simply look at the previous 20 years of progress and just congratulate ourselves, we must look at the next 20 years with a mind open to more lasting reform and more opportunities for women.

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