Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-55597f9d44-ssw5r Total loading time: 0.319 Render date: 2022-08-17T02:53:54.702Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "useRatesEcommerce": false, "useNewApi": true } hasContentIssue true

A Law on Paper Only: Electoral Rules, Parties, and the Persistent Underrepresentation of Women in Brazilian Legislatures

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 April 2016

Kristin Wylie
James Madison University
Pedro dos Santos
Luther College


This article advances a party-centric analysis of gender quotas in Brazil. We examine how parties mediate electoral rules, finding that neither the implementation of the Lei de Cotas (Quota Law) in 1995 nor its 2009 mini-reform was sufficient to induce significant change in party strategies for the nomination and election of women. Moreover, we find that while the open-list proportional representation electoral system is an important part of the explanation for the quota's failure to enhance women's representation, an analysis of how those electoral rules interact with decentralized party politics and women's absence from subnational party leadership structures yields superior explanatory power for understanding quota (non)compliance. We marshal extensive evidence on interparty variation in candidacies to Brazil's Chamber of Deputies and state legislative assemblies and interviews with candidates, party leaders, bureaucrats, and activists throughout Brazil to show how electoral rules and party dynamics interact to undermine the gender quota, resulting in a limited increase in the number of female candidates and stagnation in the number of women elected. We conclude that reform efforts must target not only electoral rules but also the subnational party structures that mediate these rules if they are to enhance women's political representation.

Research Article
Copyright © The Women and Politics Research Section of the American Political Science Association 2016 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Acker, Joan. 1990. “Hierarchies, Jobs, Bodies: A Theory of Gendered Organizations.” Gender & Society 4 (2): 139–58.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Acker, Joan. 1992. “From Sex Roles to Gendered Institutions.” Contemporary Sociology 21 (5): 565–69.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Alvarez, Sonia E. 1990. Engendering Democracy in Brazil: Women's Movements in Politics. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
Ames, Barry. 2002. The Deadlock of Democracy in Brazil. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.Google Scholar
Araújo, Clara. 1999. “As Cotas Para Mulheres, Analisando Resultados E Perspectivas.” Teoria e Sociedade 4: 105–34.Google Scholar
Araújo, Clara. 2003. “Quotas for Women in the Brazilian Legislative System.” Presented at the International IDEA Workshop Implementation of Quotas: Latin American Experiences,” Lima, Peru. (accessed March 1, 2013).Google Scholar
Araújo, Clara. 2010. “The Limits of Women's Quotas in Brazil.” IDS Bulletin 41 (5): 1724.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Beckwith, Karen. 2010. “A Comparative Politics of Gender Symposium Introduction: Comparative Politics and the Logics of a Comparative Politics of Gender.” Perspectives on Politics 8 (1): 159–68.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bjarnegård, Elin. 2013. Gender, Informal Institutions and Political Recruitment: Explaining Male Dominance in Parliamentary Representation. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Braga, Maria do Socorro Sousa. 2008. “Organizações Partidárias E Seleção de Candidatos No Estado de São Paulo.” Opinião Pública 14 (2): 454–85.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Carey, John M., and Shugart, Matthew Soberg. 1995. “Incentives to Cultivate a Personal Vote: A Rank Ordering of Electoral Formulas.” Electoral Studies 14 (4): 417–39.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Centro de Estudos de Opinião Pública (CESOP). 2010. Brazilian Electoral Study. Campinas, Brazil: Universidade Estadual de Campinas.Google Scholar
Centro Feminista de Estudos e Assessoria (CFEMEA). 2004. Fêmea XII (136): 112.Google Scholar
Chappell, Louise. 2006. “Comparing Political Institutions: Revealing the Gendered.” Politics & Gender 2 (2): 223–35.Google Scholar
Congresso em Foco. 2010. “TSE Exigirá Cumprimento de Cotas Para Mulheres.” (accessed March 2, 2013).Google Scholar
Costa, Ana Alice Alcântara. 2008. “Women and Politics: The Brazil Paradox.” March 11. (accessed March 14, 2016).Google Scholar
Dahlerup, Drude, ed. 2006. Women, Quotas and Politics. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
DataSenado. 2014. “Mulheres na Política.” (accessed July 2, 2015).Google Scholar
Franceschet, Susan, Krook, Mona Lena, and Piscopo, Jennifer M., eds. 2012. The Impact of Gender Quotas. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Franceschet, Susan, and Piscopo, Jennifer. 2008. “Gender Quotas and Women's Substantive Representation: Lessons from Argentina.” Politics & Gender 4 (3): 393425.Google Scholar
Género y Partidos Políticos en América Latina (GEPPAL). 2009. (accessed July 2, 2015).Google Scholar
Godinho, Tatau. 1996. “Ação Afirmativa no Partido dos Trabalhadores.” Estudos Feministas 4 (1): 148.Google Scholar
Hinojosa, Magda. 2012. Selecting Women, Electing Women: Political Representation and Candidate Selection in Latin America. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.Google Scholar
Htun, Mala. 2002. “Puzzles of Women's Rights in Brazil.” Social Research 69 (3): 733–51.Google Scholar
Htun, Mala, and Jones, Mark. 2002. “Engendering the Right to Participate in Decision-Making: Electoral Quotas and Women's Leadership in Latin America.” In Gender and the Politics of Rights and Democracy in Latin America, eds. Craske, Nikki and Molyneux, Maxine. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 3256.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Instituto Brasileiro de Opinião Pública e Estatística (IBOPE). 2009. Mulheres na Política. Retrieved from (accessed March 26, 2016).Google Scholar
Instituto de Pesquisa Econômica Aplicada (IPEA). 2011. “Retrato das Desigualdades de Gênero e Raça.” 4th ed. (accessed June 19, 2015).Google Scholar
Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU). 2016. “Women in National Parliaments.” (accessed March 16, 2016).Google Scholar
Kenney, Sally J. 1996. “New Research on Gendered Political Institutions.” Political Research Quarterly 49 (2): 445–66.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kenny, Meryl. 2013. Gender and Political Recruitment: Theorizing Institutional Change. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kittilson, Miki Caul. 2006. Challenging Parties, Changing Parliaments: Women and Elected Office in Contemporary Western Europe. Columbus: Ohio State University Press.Google Scholar
Krook, Mona Lena. 2009. Quotas for Women in Politics: Gender and Candidate Selection Reform Worldwide. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Krook, Mona Lena. 2015. “Contesting Gender Quotas: A Typology of Resistance.” Presented at the 4th European Conference on Politics and Gender, Uppsala, Sweden.Google Scholar
Krook, Mona Lena, and Mackay, Fiona, eds. 2011. Gender, Politics and Institutions: Towards a Feminist Institutionalism. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lamounier, Bolívar, and Neto, Octavio Amorim. 2005. “Brazil.” In Elections in the Americas: A Data Handbook, ed. Nohlen, Dieter. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 163252.Google Scholar
Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP). 2012–14. “The AmericasBarometer by the Latin American Public Opinion Project.” (accessed March 14, 2016).Google Scholar
Leoni, Eduardo, Pereira, Carlos, and Rennó, Lúcio. 2004. “Political Survival Strategies: Political Career Decisions in the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies.” Journal of Latin American Studies 36 (1): 109–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Macaulay, Fiona. 2003. “Sexual Politics, Party Politics: The PT Government's Policies on Gender Equity and Equality.” Working Paper CBS46-03, Centre for Brazilian Studies, University of Oxford.Google Scholar
Mackay, Fiona. 2014. “Nested Newness, Institutional Innovation, and the Gendered Limits of Change.” Politics & Gender 10 (4): 549–71.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mackay, Fiona, and Waylen, Georgina. 2014. “Introduction: Gendering ‘New’ Institutions.” Politics & Gender 10 (4): 489–94.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mainwaring, Scott. 1991. “Politicians, Parties, and Electoral Systems: Brazil in Comparative Perspective.” Comparative Politics 24 (1): 2143.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mainwaring, Scott. 1999. Rethinking Party Systems in the Third Wave of Democratization: The Case of Brazil. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
Marx, Jutta, Borner, Jutta, and Caminotti, Mariana. 2007. Las Legisladoras: Cupos de Género y Política en Argentina y Brasil. Buenos Aires: Siglo XXI Editora Iberoamericana.Google Scholar
Matland, Richard E. 1998. “Women's Representation in National Legislatures: Developed and Developing Countries.” Legislative Studies Quarterly 23 (1): 109–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mendonça, Ricardo, and Navarro, Silvio. 2012. “Mulheres Recebem Apenas 8% Dos Repasses Dos Partidos.” (accessed March 2, 2013).Google Scholar
Miguel, Luis Felipe, and de Queiroz, Cristina Monteiro. 2006. “Regional Differences and Women's Relative Success in Municipal Elections in Brazil.” Revista Estudos Feministas 14 (2): 363–85.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Nicolau, Jairo. 2006. “The Open-List of Electoral System in Brazil.” Dados 49 (4): 689720.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Opinião Pública. 2012. “Tendências.” 18 (1): 239–54.Google Scholar
Perondi, Regina. 2007. Partidos Politicos E Terceiro Setor. Brasília, Brazil: Fundação Ulysses Guimarães.Google Scholar
Power, Timothy J., and Zucco, Cesar Jr. 2009. “Estimating Ideology of Brazilian Legislative Parties, 1990–2005: A Research Communication.” Latin American Research Review 44 (1): 218–46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Programa das Nações Unidas para o Desenvolvimento (PNUD). 2013. O Índice De Desenvolvimento Humano Municipal Brasileiro. Brasília: PNUD.Google Scholar
QuotaProject. 2015. “Global Database of Quotas for Women.” (accessed July 2, 2015).Google Scholar
Rangel, Patricia. 2009. “Sex and the City: Reflections on Women's Parliamentary Representation and the 2008 Municipal Elections.” Sociedade e Cultura 12 (1): 6977.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ribeiro, Pedro Floriano. 2013. “Organização e Poder nos Partidos Brasileiros: Uma Análise dos Estatutos.” Revista Brasileira de Ciência Política 10: 225–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Salmond, Rob. 2006. “Proportional Representation and Female Parliamentarians.” Legislative Studies Quarterly 31 (2): 175204.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Samuels, David. 2000. “Ambition and Competition: Explaining Legislative Turnover in Brazil.” Legislative Studies Quarterly 25 (3): 481–97.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Samuels, David. 2003. Ambition, Federalism, and Legislative Politics in Brazil. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Samuels, David. 2008. “Political Ambition, Candidate Recruitment, and Legislative Politics in Brazil.” In Pathways to Power: Political Recruitment and Candidate Selection in Latin America, eds. Siavelis, Peter M. and Morgenstern, Scott. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 7691.Google Scholar
Santos, Pedro dos. 2012. “Gendering Representation: Parties, Institutions, and the Under-Representation of Women in Brazil's State Legislatures.” Ph.D. diss. University of Kansas.Google Scholar
Schmidt, Gregory D. 2009. “The Election of Women in List PR Systems: Testing the Conventional Wisdom.” Electoral Studies 28 (2): 190203.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Schwindt-Bayer, Leslie A. 2009. “Making Quotas Work: The Effect of Gender Quota Laws on the Election of Women.” Legislative Studies Quarterly 34 (1): 528.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Silva, Beto. 2010. “Efeito Dilma’ Não Chega Ao Congresso.” Diario do Grande ABC, November 7. (accessed March 14, 2016).Google Scholar
Streb, Matthew, Burrell, Barbara, Frederick, Brian, and Genovese, Michael. 2008. “Social Desirability Effects and Support for a Female American President.” Public Opinion Quarterly 72 (1): 7689.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Suplicy, Marta. 1996. “Novos Paradigmas Nas Esferas de Poder.” Estudos Feministas 4 (1): 126–37.Google Scholar
Thames, Frank C., and Williams, Margaret S.. 2010. “Incentives for Personal Votes and Women's Representation in Legislatures.” Comparative Political Studies 43 (12): 15751600.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Torres, Izabelle, and Abreu, Diego. 2010. “Elas Entram Pra Cumprir Tabela.” Correio Braziliense, August 1. (October 12, 2013).Google Scholar
Tribunal Superior Eleitoral ( TSE). 2015. “Tribunal Superior Eleitoral. 1994–2014: Electoral Statistics.” (accessed March 14, 2016).Google Scholar
Tripp, Aili Mari, and Kang, Alice. 2008. “The Global Impact of Quotas: On the Fast Track to Increased Female Legislative Representation.” Comparative Political Studies 41 (3): 338–61.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Valdini, Melody Ellis. 2013. “Electoral Institutions and the Manifestation of Bias: The Effect of the Personal Vote on the Representation of Women.” Politics & Gender 9 (1): 7692.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
World Values Survey Association. 2014. “World Values Survey 1981–2014.” (accessed March 14, 2016).Google Scholar
Wylie, Kristin. 2012. “Strong Women, Weak Parties: Challenges to Democratic Representation in Brazil.” Ph.D. diss. University of Texas at Austin.Google Scholar
Supplementary material: File

Wylie and dos Santos supplementary material


Download Wylie and dos Santos supplementary material(File)
File 14 KB
Cited by

Save article to Kindle

To save this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

A Law on Paper Only: Electoral Rules, Parties, and the Persistent Underrepresentation of Women in Brazilian Legislatures
Available formats

Save article to Dropbox

To save this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Dropbox account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

A Law on Paper Only: Electoral Rules, Parties, and the Persistent Underrepresentation of Women in Brazilian Legislatures
Available formats

Save article to Google Drive

To save this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Google Drive account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

A Law on Paper Only: Electoral Rules, Parties, and the Persistent Underrepresentation of Women in Brazilian Legislatures
Available formats

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *