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Is Gender like Ethnicity? The Political Representation of Identity Groups

  • Mala Htun (a1)


Some 50 countries officially allocate access to political power by gender, ethnicity, or both. Yet in the world's electoral democracies, the policies used for women differ systematically from those used for ethnic groups. The former receive candidate quotas in parties; the latter, reserved seats in legislatures. Why? My explanation focuses on the varying ways that gender and ethnic identities intersect with partisan cleavages and on the distinct “work” performed by the different remedies for underrepresentation. Quotas, which make space within existing parties, are appropriate for groups whose boundaries crosscut partisan divisions. Reservations, which create incentives for the formation of group-specific parties and permit them direct representation, suit groups whose boundaries coincide with political cleavages. Since gender is crosscutting while ethnicity tends to be coinciding, women receive candidate quotas while ethnic groups get legislative reservations. Claims for inclusion via quotas pose less of a challenge to liberal institutions than claims to difference through legislative reservations. Case studies of representational politics in France, India, and Peru illustrate the argument.Mala Htun is author of Sex and the State: Abortion, Divorce, and the Family under Latin American Dictatorships and Democracies. The author gratefully acknowledges the assistance and advice of Kanchan Chandra, Jorge Domínguez, Jennifer Hochschild, Mark Jones, Courtney Jung, Jim Miller, Victoria Murillo, Jack Snyder, Donna Lee Van Cott, Myra Waterbury, participants in colloquia at the New School and Columbia University, and anonymous reviewers.



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