Increasing Women's Representation
Mark P. Jones
The underrepresentation of women in
legislative assemblies is a global phenomenon. One commonly articulated interim method by
which to address this underrepresentation is the use of gender quotas specifying minimum
levels of representation for each sex. The use of gender quotas is particularly attractive
in systems that employ proportional representation (PR) and a closed party list to elect
members of legislative bodies.
Despite the potential of quotas to increase the representation of women, no democracy had ever mandated the use of quotas by all political parties through a national law until Argentina did so in 1991. Italy followed suit in 1993 for the 25% of its parliament elected from party lists.
The Ley de Cupos and the Argentine Electoral System
Between the return to democracy in 1983 and 1991 an average of only 4% of the legislators elected to the Chamber of Deputies were women. In 1991, legislation was passed (the "Ley de Cupos") which contained two important requirements:
1) That a minimum of 30% of all candidates on the party lists (Argentina elects its national deputies via a closed list PR arrangement) in all of the nation's 24 electoral districts be women.
2) That these women be placed in electable positions on the lists and not only in decorative positions providing little chance of election.
Party lists which fail to comply with the law are rejected. If a rejected list is not corrected so as to bring it into compliance with the law, the party in question cannot compete in that district's congressional election. Following the implementation of the law, in the 1993 Chamber election 21.3% (27 of 127) of the deputies elected were women, compared to only 4.6% (6 of 130) in the election of 1991.
Argentina has a presidential system of government and a bicameral legislature. The Ley de Cupos applies to national level elective offices where a party list is employed, and thus currently only to the election of the Chamber of Deputies and of the municipal council in the nation's Federal Capital.
Chamber deputies are elected for a four-year term, with one-half of the Chamber's 257 members (130 and 127) elected every two years. The deputies are chosen from 24 multi-member electoral districts, corresponding to the nation's 23 provinces and Federal Capital. In any given election, these districts vary in size from electing 2 to 35 deputies.
The provincial branches of the political parties create the closed party lists from which the Argentine deputies are elected, although at times the national party intervenes to impose a list. It is in the formation of these lists where the application of the Ley de Cupos comes into play. The regulation of the law provides a set of guidelines which govern the formation of the party lists. The goal of the regulation is to insure that the key components of the Ley de Cupos are respected: 1) that a minimum of 30% of the candidates be women, and 2) that these women candidates be placed in electable positions.
Some Initial Consequences
Following the May 1995 election to renew the one-half of the Argentine Chamber elected in the pre-cupo era roughly one-fourth of the Chamber deputies will be women. Using current world-wide percentages as a base of comparison, this future percentage will give the Argentine Chamber the status of having the highest percentage of women members of any democratically elected national legislative body in the Western Hemisphere, and one of the ten highest in the world.
While a strong success, the Argentine experience does suggest three potential pitfalls related to the actual implementation of a gender quota law. First, at least in the initial election, many political parties may resist complying with the law. Second, where political parties are dominated by men, there will be a strong tendency for implementation of the law to be minimalist. Third, quota laws do not work particularly well in electoral districts from which a small number of legislators are elected.
Mark Jones is an assistant professor of political science at Michigan State University. A more comprehensive analysis of the Ley de Cupos appears in a forthcoming article in Women & Politics.
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