Do Gender Quotas Influence Women's Representation and Policies?

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

An increasing number of countries are currently introducing various types of gender quotas in public elections to reach a gender balance in political institutions. Most developing countries introduced electoral gender quotas during the 1990s, mainly due to the influence of the UN Conference on Women held in Beijing. (2) On the other hand, most developed countries adopted gender quotas 10 or 15 years prior to the Conference. A dramatic change has taken place in the established rank order of countries regarding the level of women's political representation. The five Nordic countries, which for many years were almost alone at the top of the list, are now being challenged by amazingly fast development in a number of countries around the globe. For example, Rwanda superseded Sweden as number one in the world in terms of women's parliamentary representation--48.8% women against Sweden's 45.3% in 2003, and has more than 50% of seats for female legislators since 2008.

The core idea behind the gender quota systems is to recruit women into political positions and to ensure that women are not isolated in political life. The evidence suggests that women tend to have systematically different preferences for household spending. The incorporation of women's concerns in decision-making would, thereby, improve the nature of the public sphere. In addition, women's representation can also have an indirect influence by increasing men's attention to policies concerning women and children. (3) Quota systems therefore aim at ensuring that women constitute a certain number or percentage of the members of a body, whether it is a candidate list, a parliamentary assembly, a committee, or a government.

Theoretically, if the candidates do not commit to implement specific policies once elected, the identity of the legislator matters for policy determination (Besley and Coate, 1997, and Osborne and Slivinski, 1996). This influence on policy increases as there is increasing political representation of a group. Therefore, if gender quota systems lead to a pronounced increase in women's representation in politics, we should observe that government gives higher weights to policy outcomes related to women's concerns after introducing a gender quota system.

However, existing empirical studies focus on the effect of political reservations on policy outcomes in the case of an individual country. (4) Do quotas work as well in general? Some countries take gender quotas as a symbolic policy to reflect the demand for gender equality without making related changes in institutions. The use of quotas is thereby not sufficient to ensure high levels of women in parliament. (5) On the other hand, a high level of representation might be achieved without quotas, such as that achieved in Nordic countries. I therefore first investigate the effect of quotas on the representation of women in parliament. Taking the introduction of quotas as an exogenous source of variation, I can thereby compare women's representation before and after the policy is applied.

I then examine government spending on different functions before and after the introduction of quotas to check whether political reservations have increased expenditures on groups that should benefit from the mandate. Under the assumption that gender quotas have neither a direct impact on policy outcomes nor an influence on policy outcomes through channels other than the proportion of female legislators, I use gender quotas as an instrument for female legislators and study the effect of female legislators on policy outcomes.

The remainder of the paper is organized as follows. Section 2 provides the background of women's preference and gender quota systems adopted around the world. Section 3 discusses the empirical strategy and data collection. Section 4 presents the results of the analysis. Section 5 provides robustness checks and section 6 concludes. …