HomeLearning CenterThe Last Two Years Saw Record Wins for Women in Politics Worldwide. How Can Election Rules and Voting Systems Shape Opportunities for Women?

The Last Two Years Saw Record Wins for Women in Politics Worldwide. How Can Election Rules and Voting Systems Shape Opportunities for Women?

Originally published by Nora Weiss for Ms. Magazine

RepresentWomen released the Golden Year Analysis this month, which identified the factors influencing global progress toward gender parity in politics in 2021 and 2022. Of 85 countries that held elections in these years, 43 achieved a “golden year” by electing a record-high number of women to their national legislatures. While this is certainly cause for celebration, gender-balanced governance remains far from reach for many countries, including the United States. 

While the U.S. is making slow progress toward political parity, other countries are making more significant gains over time. The Golden Year Analysis emphasizes the role that systems-level factors, such as voting systems and election rules, play in improving women’s representation in government. By analyzing global trends in women’s representation, this report sheds light on the most promising pathways to progress. 

Of all systems-level reforms, gender quotas are among the most effective in facilitating rapid and impressive gains for women in politics.

  • In 2021, Mexico achieved gender balance in parliament due to a gender quota law implemented a few years prior.
  • Though still far from parity, Malta’s new gender quota law also resulted in women’s representation progressing from 15 percent in 2021 to 28 percent in 2022.
  • Similarly, Guinea’s 2019 gender quota law resulted in a 17 percent increase in women’s representation in 2022. 

Still, adopting gender quotas does not always guarantee better outcomes for women.

In Cyprus, gender quotas are voluntary, and parties are not punished for failing to comply. As a result, in 2021, Cyprus experienced significant declines in women’s representation—demonstrating how voluntary gender quota laws produce mixed results, especially in contexts where patriarchal norms are strong. 

In the same way that implementing gender quotas can advance women’s representation, removing these reforms can result in lost progress.

Despite Algeria’s recent advances towards a gender-balanced parliament, women’s representation decreased from 26 percent to 8 percent after President Abdelmadjid Tebboune waived the parliamentary gender quota. To foster sustainable progress toward political parity, countries must ensure that gender quotas are strongly enforced and maintained over time.

While well-designed and enforced gender quotas tend to have the most immediate impact on women’s political representation, other systems-level reforms also have the potential to accelerate progress towards gender balance. According to our research, women tend to fare better in proportional voting systems, compared to majority and plurality voting systems. By allowing for multiple winners and diversifying candidate pools, proportional voting systems mitigate barriers that have historically gate-kept women from serving in elected office. 

Although voting systems and election rules are critical in achieving gender-balanced governance, social norms and cultural values are equally important. To create sustainable change, we must foster a culture that condemns gender-based discrimination and promotes equity in the context of politics and all aspects of society. Systems-level reforms can accelerate progress, but must be supported by cultural narratives that empower women.

Undoubtedly, golden years are noteworthy milestones in women’s global representation and deserve recognition. However, the fight for gender balance in politics is far from finished. While some countries are making significant progress toward political parity, many, such as the United States, have only experienced incremental gains. 

To achieve gender balance in our lifetimes, we must invest in structural solutions that increase women’s representation. RepresentWomen is committed to advancing women’s political representation by researching, identifying and promoting evidence-based, systems-level reforms that can accelerate progress toward gender-balanced governance.

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