Skip to main content

From Critical Mass to Critical Leaders: Unpacking the Political Conditions behind Gender Quotas in Africa

  • Christie Marie Arendt (a1)

The surge in gender quotas across Africa raises questions about the varied impacts of these measures on women's empowerment in legislatures. This study contends that we must explore the diverse political conditions under which quotas are adopted to understand the potential for empowerment in legislatures. By examining political context, we can pinpoint why political parties acquiesce to gender quotas and how they design laws to either empower women or reinforce party control. Parties influence aspects of gender quota design that have lasting effects on women legislators elected through these laws. Employing a new measure of legislative leadership equity, this article compares political conditions under which quotas are adopted across 18 African countries and the extent to which women reach leadership positions following the implementation of a quota. Levels of political competition and women's mainstream political activity at the time of gender quota adoption indicate how the interests of political parties shape the design and effects of the law. That the outcomes of gender quotas are highly contingent on adoption context suggests the need for academics and policy makers to analyze the politics behind these measures to develop country-specific approaches for empowering women in politics.

Hide All

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and are not necessarily those of the U.S. government.

I would like to thank Kimberly Morgan, Jennifer Brinkerhoff, and Eric Kramon from the George Washington University, as well as the editors and three anonymous reviewers at Politics & Gender, for their helpful comments. An earlier version of this article was presented at the Annual Meeting of the African Studies Association in Washington, DC, December 1–3, 2016.

Hide All
Bachrach, Peter, and Baratz, Morton S.. 1962. “Two Faces of Power.” American Political Science Review 56 (4): 947–52.
Baldez, Lisa. 2006. “The Pros and Cons of Gender Quota Laws: What Happens When You Kick Men Out and Let Women In?Politics & Gender 2 (1): 102–9.
Barkan, Joel D. 2009. “African Legislatures and the ‘Third Wave’ of Democratization.” In Legislative Power in Emerging African Democracies, ed. Barkan, Joel D.. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 133.
Bashevkin, Sylvia B. 1993. Toeing the Lines: Women and Party Politics in English Canada. Toronto: Oxford University Press.
Bauer, Gretchen. 2012. “‘Let There Be a Balance’: Women in African Parliaments.” Political Studies Review 10 (3): 370–84.
Bauer, Gretchen. 2014. “‘A Lot of Headwraps’: Innovations in a Second Wave of Electoral Gender Quotas in Sub-Saharan Africa.” Working Paper, Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies, European University Institute. (accessed October 26, 2017).
Beckwith, Karen. 2007. “Numbers and Newness: The Descriptive and Substantive Representation of Women.” Canadian Journal of Political Science 40 (1): 2749.
Bjarnegård, Elin, and Zetterberg, Pär. 2016. “Political Parties and Gender Quota Implementation: The Role of Bureaucratized Candidate Selection Processes.” Comparative Politics 48 (3): 393417.
Bogaards, Mattijs. 2004. “Counting Parties and Identifying Dominant Party Systems in Africa.” European Journal of Political Research 43 (2): 173–97.
Bonder, Gloria, and Nari, Marcela. 1995. “The 30 Percent Quota Law: A Turning Point for Women's Political Participation in Argentina.” In A Rising Public Voice: Women in Politics Worldwide, ed. Brill, Alida. New York: Feminist Press of the City University of New York, 183–93.
Burnet, Jennie E. 2011. “Women Have Found Respect: Gender Quotas, Symbolic Representation, and Female Empowerment in Rwanda.” Politics & Gender 7 (3): 303–34.
Cann, Damon. 2008. “Modeling Committee Chair Selection in the U.S. House of Representatives.” Political Analysis 16 (3): 274–89.
Cheng, Christine, and Tavits, Margit. 2011. “Informal Influences in Selecting Female Political Candidates.” Political Research Quarterly 64 (2): 460–71.
Childs, Sarah, and Krook, Mona Lena. 2008. “Critical Mass Theory and Women's Political Representation.” Political Studies 56 (3): 725–36.
Coppedge, Michael. 1999. “Thickening Thin Concepts and Theories: Combining Large N and Small in Comparative Politics.” Comparative Politics 31 (4): 465–76.
Cox, Gary. 1997. Making Votes Count: Strategic Coordination in the World's Electoral Systems. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Dahlerup, Drude. 1988. “From a Small to a Large Minority: Women in Scandinavian Politics.” Scandinavian Political Studies 11 (4): 275–97.
Dahlerup, Drude, and Freidenvall, Lenita. 2005. “Quotas as a ‘Fast Track’ to Equal Representation for Women.” International Feminist Journal of Politics 7 (1): 2648.
Darhour, Hanane, and Dahlerup, Drude. 2013. “Sustainable Representation of Women through Gender Quotas: A decade's Experience in Morocco.” Women's Studies International Forum 41 (Part 2): 132–42.
Deering, Christopher, and Wahlbeck, Paul. 2006. “Determinants of House Committee Chair Selection: Republicans Play Musical Chairs in the 107th Congress.” American Politics Research 34 (2): 223–42.
Driscoll, Amanda, and Krook, Mona Lena. 2009. “Can There Be a Feminist Rational Choice Institutionalism?Politics & Gender 5 (2): 238–45.
Fenno, Richard. 1973. Congressmen in Committees. Boston: Little, Brown.
Fish, M. Steven, and Kroenig, Matthew. 2009. The Handbook of National Legislatures: A Global Survey. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Franceschet, Susan, and, Piscopo, Jennifer M.. 2008. “Gender Quotas and Women's Substantive Representation: Lessons from Argentina.” Politics & Gender 4 (3): 393425.
Franceschet, Susan, and, Piscopo, Jennifer M.. 2012. “Gender and Political Backgrounds in Argentina.” In The Impact of Gender Quotas, eds. Franceschet, Susan, Krook, Mona Lena, and Piscopo, Jennifer M.. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 4357.
Fréchette, Guillaume R., Maniquet, Francois, and Morelli, Massimo. 2008. “Incumbents’ Interests and Gender Quotas.” American Journal of Political Science 52 (4): 891907.
Gerring, John. 2007. “The Case Study: What It Is and What It Does.” In The Oxford Handbook of Comparative Politics, eds. Boix, Carles and Stokes, Susan C.. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 90122.
Gilligan, Thomas W., and Krehbiel, Keith. 1987. “Collective Decision-Making and Standing Committees: An Informational Rationale for Restrictive Amendment Procedures.” Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization 3 (2): 287335.
Goetz, Anne Marie. 2003. “The Problem with Patronage: Constraints on Women's Political Effectiveness in Uganda. In No Shortcuts to Power: African Women in Politics and Policy Making, eds. Marie Goetz, Anne and Hassim, Shireen. New York: Zed Books, 110–39.
Hazan, Reuven Y., and Longley, Lawrence D.. 2000. The Uneasy Relationships between Parliamentary Members and Leaders. London: Frank Cass.
Heath, Roseanna Michelle, Schwindt-Bayer, Leslie A., and Taylor-Robinson, Michelle M.. 2005. “Women on the Sidelines: Women's Representation on Committees in Latin American Legislatures.” American Journal of Political Science 49 (2): 420–36.
Htun, Mala, and Weldon, S. Laurel. 2010. “When Do Governments Promote Women's Rights? A Framework for the Comparative Analysis of Sex Equality Policy.” Perspectives on Politics 8 (1): 207–16
Hughes, Melanie M., Krook, Mona Lena, and Paxton, Pamela. 2015. “Transnational Women's Activism and the Global Diffusion of Gender Quotas.” International Studies Quarterly 59 (2): 116.
Hughes, Melanie M., and Tripp, Aili Mari. 2015. “Civil War and Trajectories of Change in Women's Political Representation in Africa, 1985–2010.” Social Forces 93 (4): 1513–40.
International Foundation for Electoral Systems. 1993. “Report of IFES Monitoring and Observation Delegation of Morocco's Direct Legislative Elections of 1993.” (accessed October 26, 2017).
Jaquette, Jane. 1997. “Women in Power: From Tokenism to Critical Mass.” Foreign Policy, no. 108: 2337.
Jones, Mark P. 2002. “Explaining the High Level of Party Discipline in the Argentine Congress.” In Legislative Politics in Latin America, eds. Morgenstern, Scott and Nacif, Benito. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 147–84.
Jones, Mark P. 2009. “Gender Quotas, Electoral Laws, and the Election of Women Evidence from the Latin American Vanguard.” Comparative Political Studies 42 (1): 5681.
Josefsson, Cecilia. 2014. “Who Benefits from Gender Quotas? Assessing the Impact of Election Procedure Reform on Members of Parliament's Attributes in Uganda.” International Political Science Review 35 (1): 93105.
Kang, Alice. 2013. “The Effect of Gender Quota Laws on the Election of Women: Lessons from Niger.” Women's Studies International Forum 41 (2): 94102.
Kerevel, Yann, and Atkeson, Lonna Rae. 2013. “Explaining the Marginalization of Women in Legislative Institutions.” Journal of Politics 75 (4): 980–92.
Krook, Mona Lena. 2006. “Reforming Representation: The Diffusion of Candidate Gender Quotas Worldwide.” Politics & Gender 2: 303–27.
Krook, Mona Lena. 2009. Quotas for Women in Politics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Laserud, Stina, and Taphorn, Rita. 2007. “Designing for Equality: Best-Fit, Medium-Fit and Non- Favourable Combinations of Electoral Systems and Gender Quotas?” International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance. (accessed October 26, 2017).
Legewie, Nicolas. 2013. “An Introduction to Applied Data Analysis with Qualitative Comparative Analysis.” Qualitative Social Research 14(3): Art. 15. (accessed October 26, 2017).
Longman, Timothy. 2006. “Rwanda: Achieving Equality or Serving an Authoritarian State.” in Women in African Parliaments, eds. Bauer, Gretchen and Britton, Hannah E.. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 133–50.
Marx, Axel. 2006. “Towards More Robust Model Specifications in QCA Results from Methodological Experiment.” COMPASS Working Paper. (accessed October 26, 2017).
Matland, Richard. 2006. “Electoral Quotas: Frequency and Effectiveness.” In Women, Quotas and Politics, ed. Dahlerup, Drude. London: Routledge, 275–92.
McBride, Dorothy, and Mazur, Amy. 2010. Politics of State Feminism: Innovation in Comparative Research. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
Meier, Petra. 2004. “The Mutual Contagion Effect of Legal and Party Quotas: A Belgian Perspective.” Party Politics 10 (5): 583600.
Meintjes, Sheila. 2003. “The Politics of Engagement: Women Transforming the Policy Process—Domestic Violence Legislation in South Africa.” In No Shortcuts to Power: African Women in Politics and Policy Making, eds. Goetz, Anne Marie and Hassim, Shireen. New York: Zed Books, 140–59.
Murray, Rainbow. 2004. “Why Didn't Parity Work? A Closer Examination of the 2002 Election Results.” French Politics 2 (3): 347–62.
Norris, Pippa, and Lovenduski, Joni. 1995. Political Recruitment: Gender, Race and Class in the British Parliament. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Paxton, Pamela, and Hughes, Melanie. 2015. “The Increasing Effectiveness of National Gender Quotas 1990–2015.” Legislative Studies Quarterly 40 (3): 331–62.
Pitkin, Hanna Fenichel. 1967. The Concept of Representation. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Polity IV Project. 2015. “Political Regime Characteristics and Transitions, 1800–2015.” Center for Systemic Peace. (accessed October 26, 2017).
Quota Project. 2015. International IDEA, Stockholm University and Inter-Parliamentary Union. (accessed October 26, 2017).
Ragin, Charles C. 1994. Constructing Social Research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge press.
Ragin, Charles C. 2008a. Redesigning Social Inquiry: Fuzzy Sets and Beyond. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Ragin, Charles C. 2008b. “Fuzzy Set Analysis: Calibration versus Measurement.” In The Oxford Handbook of Political Science, eds. Collier, David, Brady, Henry, and Box-Steffensmeier, Janet. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 174–98.
Ragin, Charles C., Drass, Kriss A., and Davey, Sean. 2006. Fuzzy-Set/Qualitative Comparative Analysis 2.0. Tucson: Department of Sociology, University of Arizona.
Rosen, Jennifer. 2013. “The Effects of Political Institutions on Women's Political Representation: A Comparative Analysis of 168 Countries from 1992 to 2010.” Political Research Quarterly 66 (2): 306–21.
Salih, Mohamad. 2005. African Parliaments: Between Governance and Government. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Sanbonmatsu, Kira. 2006. Where Women Run: Gender and Party in the American States. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Sater, James N. 2012. “Reserved Seats, Patriarchy, and Patronage in Morocco.” In The Impact of Gender Quotas, eds. Franceschet, Susan, Krook, Mona Lena, and Piscopo, Jennifer M.. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 7286.
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.
Stetson, Dorothy McBride, and Mazur, Amy, eds. 1995. Comparative State Feminism. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Studlar, Donley T., and Matland, Richard E.. 1996. “The Contagion of Women Candidates in Single-Member District and Proportional Representation Electoral Systems: Canada and Norway.” Journal of Politics 58 (3): 707–33.
Threlfall, Monica. 2010. “‘State Feminism or Party Feminism?’ Feminist Politics and the Spanish Institute of Women.” In Women, Gender and Politics: A Reader, eds. Krook, Mona Lena and Childs, Sarah. New York: Oxford University Press, 327–33.
Towns, Ann. 2003. “Understanding the Effects of Larger Ratios of Women in National Legislatures: Proportions and Gender Differentiation in Sweden and Norway.” Women & Politics 25 (1): 129.
Tripp, Aili Mari. 2015. Women and Power in Postconflict Africa. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Tripp, Aili Mari, Casimiro, Isabel, Kwesiga, Joy, and Mungwa, Alice. 2009. African Women's Movements: Changing Political Landscapes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Van de Walle, Nicolas, and Butler, Kimberly Smiddy. 1999. “Political Parties and Party Systems in Africa's Illiberal Democracies.” Cambridge Review of International Affairs 13 (1): 1428.
Weingast, Barry R., and Marshall, William J.. 1988. “The Industrial Organization of Congress; or, Why Legislatures, Like Firms, Are Not Organized as Markets.” Journal of Political Economy 96 (1): 132163.
Yoon, Mi Yung. 2008. “Special Seats for Women in the National Legislature: The Case of Tanzania.” Africa Today 55 (1): 6186.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Politics & Gender
  • ISSN: 1743-923X
  • EISSN: 1743-9248
  • URL: /core/journals/politics-and-gender
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed