Why Are Gender Quotas Adopted? Party Pragmatism and Parity in France

Article excerpt


The passage of electoral gender quotas raises questions about why male elites would support policies that seemingly go against their self-interests. Recent work on France suggests that quota adoption is self-interested because male legislators benefit from alleged voter bias against female candidates. This article evaluates this explanation as a means for understanding quota adoption globally. It argues that the key actors are not legislators but political parties. Developing an alternative causal story centered on "party pragmatism," it finds that decisions to introduce quotas are rational and consistent once a range of incentives-ideological, electoral, and strategic-are taken into account.


comparative politics, elections and voting behavior, political organizations and parties, women and politics

In recent years, gender quotas regulating the candidate selection process have been adopted in more than one hundred countries. Although varied in format, these policies stipulate that women constitute a minimum proportion of candidates and/or representatives. Quotas have been justified on the grounds that women constitute a small minority of elected officials-on average, only 19 percent of parliamentarians worldwide (Inter-Parliamentary Union 2011). Strikingly, the vast majority of these measures have been passed nearly unanimously by male-dominated political parties and legislatures. Alongside their global diffusion, this fact implies widespread consensus behind the goal of increasing women's representation. Yet given women's low numbers, implementing quotas necessitates a reduction in the proportion of men. This raises the question: why would party elites and legislators-who are overwhelmingly male-support a policy that appears to go against their own self-interests?

Existing research on gender quotas offers three primary explanations. One highlights electoral incentives, suggesting that parties tend to pursue quotas when seeking to capture women's votes (Davidson-Schmich 2006; Kittilson 2006; Meier 2004). A second emphasizes ideological incentives, attributing adoption to congruencies between quotas and principles informing party and national models of inclusion (Krook, Lovenduski, and Squires 2009; Meier 2000; Opello 2006). A final set of arguments points to strategic incentives, contending that elites support quotas to sustain an existing regime (Howard-Merriam 1990), consolidate control over rivals (Chowdhury 2002), and respond to international pressures (Krook 2006). These accounts offer important insights into motivations behind quota policies. However, all three explanations remain at the macro level: they address influences and determinants but do not closely explore actual decisionmaking processes. The result is that relatively little is known about how these incentives have been translated more concretely into action.

An interesting advance in this regard is a recent analysis by Guillaume R. Fréchette, François Maniquet, and Massimo Morelli (2008; hereafter FMM). In an article on France, they attempt to explain these processes at the micro level, using game theory to model the calculations of individual legislators leading to reform. Their answer is simple: quota adoption is in male legislators' self-interest. While their finding is counterintuitive, FMM propose that the inducement to adopt quotas emerges from a "male advantage" in French elections, whereby women are easier to defeat than men. According to this logic, male incumbents stand a greater chance of being reelected if they face a female challenger. This prospect of reelection, FMM suggest, provided a rational incentive to incumbents to support a parity law, which would boost their chances of facing a female opponent. However, to ensure that they would not be at risk of deselection, deputies also introduced a lenient financial penalty, creating a loophole whereby parties could violate the law to protect male incumbents. …