Women operate in diverse political systems across the globe and in countries at different levels of gender equality in public life. While country contexts are different, many of the structural and normative impediments to women’s participation are similar. These impediments include
• The structure of the electoral process and system
• Social norms around the role of women and their participation in politics
• Male-dominated institutions
• Unwelcoming political parties that are resistant to fielding women candidates in winnable positions
• Hostile and belittling media coverage
• Women’s time constraints, based on multiple roles
• Electoral violence
Electoral Systems Matter
While sometimes controversial, electoral quotas are the most effective way to increase the number of women in office. There is a quota system in place in almost every country where at least 30% of the members of a national legislature are women.91 In almost 130 countries, quotas are mandated by the country’s constitution and/or electoral laws, or by a political party’s governing documents. The most effective quotas have sanctions for noncompliance and include mandates for placing women high on party electoral lists.92
Further, more women are elected to public office in the context of electoral systems based on proportional representation, where legislative seats are assigned in proportion to the number of votes received by a party. In these systems, political parties have an incentive to run diverse candidates that appeal to a wide range of voters, rather than maximize one individual’s chance of winning. On average, eight percent more women are elected in proportional representation systems than in winner-take-all systems, which are the systems currently in place in the U.S. and Canada.93 Countries with less than 10% of women in their parliament are far more likely to have a winner-take-all system than a proportional one.
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