Until the 1990s, legislatures around the world were almost exclusively the domain of men. But today, more women are occupying legislative seats than ever before, and some of the highest rates are found in the Americas.
The region's rapid increases in female representation have occurred largely as a result of special legal measures to increase female representation. In the 1960s, women held 2 percent of unicameral or lower house legislative seats. Today, that number has jumped to almost 22 percent of legislative seats.
In 1991, Argentina became the first Latin American country to adopt national gender quotas. A landmark law, known as Ley de Cupos, required a minimum of 30 percent women on each party electoral list. The law further stipulated that women be placed in electable positions to improve their chance of winning. The 1995 UN Conference on Women in Beijing gave added impetus to women's demands as did regional networks of women's organizations. With momentum building, interest in quotas gradually spread from Argentina to countries throughout the Americas.
Today over 100 countries have adopted some form of gender-based quota to improve female legislative representation. The broad goal of these quotas is to improve the balance between the number of men and women occupying public office. Some countries have adopted constitutionally and/or legislatively mandated seats for which only women can compete. Others adopted constitutionally or legislatively mandated compulsory quotas that require all parties to include a certain percentage of women on their candidate list. In the Americas, the line is split: 12 countries have compulsory quotas and 12 have party quotas.
In a recent study of 153 countries, 1 we found that the introduction of quotas offers the best explanation for changes in female political representation. But more female legislators are also the case in countries with electoral systems where the number of seats corresponds to the proportion of party votes (proportional representation). …