Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Electoral quotas for women: an international overview



Download PDFDownload PDF

November 18, 2013

Electoral quotas for women: an international overview By Joy McCann

Dorothy Tangney DBE Image source: Wikimedia Commons courtesy Australian Freedom of Panorama

Electoral quotas for women: an international overview, published by the Parliamentary Library, provides an overview of recent global trends in women’s political representation and the different types of gender quotas adopted. Drawing on recent international research, it explains the impact of electoral quotas, what influences their success, and the various arguments for and against their use. The paper also looks at electoral gender quotas in Australia, and describes the use of quota systems in other Commonwealth countries. Across the world women remain significantly under-represented in political decision-making and leadership roles. As at 1 October 2013, women occupied around one-fifth of all seats in national legislatures. In Australia, women currently hold less than one-third of seats in the Commonwealth Parliament. Australia is currently ranked 43rd in the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s global survey of women in national parliaments.

Since the 1990s electoral quotas have become an important mechanism for increasing women’s political representation, with legal or voluntary gender quotas now used in more than half of the world’s countries. Quotas are a form of affirmative action or equal opportunity measure designed to address the slow pace of change in the participation of women and minority groups in areas of society where they are historically under-represented, including employment, education and in political institutions. However, the relevance and value of gender quotas remains contentious, particularly in liberal democracies such as Australia where public debate continues about how to address the under-representation of women in parliament and politics.