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.