Why gender quotas are not the right way forward

“The fast and most effective way to increase female representation in politics” and “a way to correct gender discrimination”: these are, among others, the two main arguments to encourage the adoption of gender quotas in politics.

For those less familiar with the concept, gender quotas are a tool to increase female representation in political institutions and, in general, in all positions of power. In practice, these can be implemented in a variety of ways, from reserving seats in the parliament to requiring parties to include a percentage of women in their electoral lists. In whatever way these are implemented, they aim at ensuring an adequate representation of female candidates in an historically male-dominated context.

Presented like this, gender quotas represent a wonderful tool to rebalance the discrimination women experience in politics. But gender quotas do not come without criticism, and I will try to explain why I am not 100% sure they are the best way towards a better representation.

Spelled out in a different way, in a system where gender quotas are in place, a woman is elected to power because of her gender. And this is problematic for the following reasons:

Choosing one gender over another is not an equalitarian choice. And here I am not worried for the few men who may lose their seats. I worry for all the individuals who do not fit into one of the two genders in the first place and I would not want to support a system that works only on a binary construct. If we “reserve a seat” for a woman, then we should do the same for other categories too. Inclusivity does not work like this, and cannot be imposed by a quota. Inclusivity is fostered by education, by subverting traditional schemes, by showing the importance and the advantages of a diverse representation.

As a woman (and I think some women would agree), I wouldn’t want to be elected only because I am a woman. I would like to be elected because of my skills and qualifications, I would like to be elected because I have and I can bring a concrete change to my community by representing them in a political institution. I would not want to be tokenized for being who I am, and effectively have little to no power of action.

To return to the two opening statements of this article: quotas are indeed fast and efficient, but are they equalitarian and inclusive as a concept? And yes, they do correct existing and long-standing discrimination toward women, but toward women only and I think this is no longer acceptable.

But what presses me most is the general concept behind it: in order to achieve an adequate representation of women (or others) in a political institution, we need to force the electorate to vote in a certain way. But is a forced change a real, meaningful change? Or should we strive to live in a society in which representation is the natural consequence of acceptance? I’m leaning towards the latter.


By Alessandra Giliberto