Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Do Gender Quotas Foster Women's Political Engagement?: Lessons from Latin America

Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Do Gender Quotas Foster Women's Political Engagement?: Lessons from Latin America

Article excerpt

Gender quotas have been held to have more far-reaching consequences than increasing women's political representation. Some scholars claim that they foster women's overall political engagement. After elaborating a theoretical framework on how affirmative action policies to legislative bodies might be beneficial to constituents of the targeted group, the author tests this hypothesis on women in seventeen Latin American countries. Contrasting previous claims, the author shows that there is no general proof of attitudinal or behavioral effects. The analysis represents an initial attempt to theorize and use large-scale data to examine the more long-term consequences of quota policies on female constituents' political involvement.

Keywords: quotas; gender; political engagement; Latin America; policy feedback; symbolic representation

This analysis addresses the question of whether affirmative action measures in candidate selection have empowering effects on citizens of the targeted group. The question has been argued over in the debate on gender quota legislation, which has been perhaps the most radical and intensely debated reform in the area of gender equality in the past fifty to sixty years (Htun and Jones 2002). ' A number of studies have shown that, within certain limits, these reforms have generated an increase in the number of women in legislative bodies, emphasizing that particular quota designs may be more efficient than others to increase this number (Dahlerup 2006b; Jones 1998; Tripp and Kang 2008). Ultimately, however, it has been argued that gender quotas are meant to generate political advancement of women in all spheres of society and not only produce a numerical increase of women in elected bodies (Dahlerup and Freidenvall 2005; Htun and Jones 2002; Kudva 2003; United Nations 1995). According to this argument, consequences of quota legislation are more far reaching than affecting the presence of women in elite-level participation, as they could help to empower women citizens and break their long-standing subordination in political life. Initial case study analyses have given some empirical support to such claims, suggesting that quota policies have positive effects on women citizens' political attitudes and activities. Gender quotas have been claimed to increase "the self-esteem, confidence, and motivation of women in general" (Nanivadekar 2006, 124), to favor women citizens' contacts with their political representatives (Kudva 2003), and to lead "to a shift [in] the political engagement of female constituents" (Krook 2006, 111).

A limitation with these analyses is that they are based on single cases (e.g., analyzing local parliaments in India). This makes it difficult to generalize the findings to a wider population. Because they use qualitative data, a second problem is the lack of control for other factors that might affect the relationship. There is a possibility that women who live in societies with gender quotas are already more politically engaged prior to the adoption of the law; as a result, differences in political attitudes and behavior are because of other factors and not the quota law itself. This analysis addresses these issues and fills a gap in the literature by testing the hypothesis on a large data set covering approximately 10,000 women in seventeen Latin American countries. This part of the world suffers from substantial gender inequalities in politics but remains at the core of gender quota legislation. After elaborating a theoretical model on how affirmative action policies might affect the political attitudes and behavior of citizens of an underrepresented group, I analyze the impacts on three political attitudes (political trust, political knowledge, and political interest) and three modes of activities (party or campaign activities, political contacts, and protest activities) (for a description of the variables, see the appendix). More specifically, I test two hypotheses, the first hypothesis claiming that legal quotas-regardless of the specifications of the law - will have positive effects on women citizens' political attitudes and behavior. …

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