Anything but unusual: the use of Gender Quotas in the EU states

By Claire McGing, John and Pat Hume and Irish Research Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences scholar, Department of Geography,  NUI Maynooth

Under planned new legislation, political parties will have to implement a gender quota for future general election candidates. If parties do not select at least 30% women, they will have their funding from the Exchequer cut by 50%. The quota will rise to 40% after seven years. Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan has said that a heavy financial penalty is the only way to “concentrate the mind” of parties. Given that party State funding is based on their share of the vote in the previous general election, the quota would be more difficult to implement for local elections, but Minister Hogan hopes that the various parties will replicate the model in 2014.

Gender quotas are not unusual by international standards. Half of the world’s democracies use some form of quota. However, gender quotas vary in type and can generally be defined along two dimensions: the level of the electoral process and the mandate. Looking at the level, regulations can aim to affect the candidates that stand for election (candidate quotas) or those that are elected (reserved seats). A distinction can also be made with regard to the mandate. While some quotas are legally mandated by constitutional or legislative change, and are hence binding for all political parties in a state and usually include sanctions for non-compliance, other quotas are voluntary and adopted by the individual political parties themselves. Voluntary quotas require a high level of commitment from a number of different parties to see a significant increase in female representation levels in a given country (they have been especially successful in Scandinavia). Both types of candidate quotas are contextual in that they must be designed to fit with the electoral system in place to work. If not, they are purely symbolic. Reserved seats models are becoming increasingly common in the Middle East, Asia and Africa, but would be too controversial in the West and may breach EU equality law.

Voluntary party quotas are the most frequently used form worldwide and are currently used in 14 EU countries (see table 1, below). In addition, five countries in the EU have implemented legislative quotas (also known as mandatory quotas) along the lines of the Irish proposal –Belgium, France, Portugal, Slovenia and Spain. In France, for example, the Parity Law introduced in 2000 requires all parties to field an equal number of male and female candidates in all elections or face substantial financial penalties. However, sanctions for non-compliance are even stricter under the Smett-Tobback Law in Belguim – if more than 2/3 of a party’s electoral is one sex, the list is rejected by the Electoral Commission.

Legislative quotas

Belgium, France, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain

Voluntary party quotas (where at least one of the three main parties have adopted them)

Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Sweden, United Kingdom

No quotas

Bulgaria, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Ireland, Latvia, Slovakia

Table 1: Use of quota mechanisms in the EU27

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About Claire McGing

PhD student with interests in gender politics, electoral geography, candidate selection and political reform.
This entry was posted in Gender and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Anything but unusual: the use of Gender Quotas in the EU states

  1. I wonder if you could indicate which states that have multi-seat PR-STV elections use quotas and at what level of the process. I would also be interested in what European states that do not use list system have quotas.

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