Electing Women to National Legislatures

  • Diana Z. O’Brien
  • Jennifer M. Piscopo
Part of the Gender and Politics book series (GAP)


This chapter examines women’s numeric representation in national legislatures as it relates to women’s political empowerment. Women’s presence in parliament symbolizes the political empowerment of female citizens, broadly defined, as higher levels of representation signal the openness, inclusivity, and equity of the political system. Yet women’s presence in legislatures may not translate into high levels of individual empowerment for female lawmakers. Institutional, organizational, and structural barriers—such as masculine cultures and male-dominated political parties—limit women’s abilities to exercise their talents and qualifications. Future research should examine how this measure of political empowerment varies across different conceptualizations of “women.” Scholars should examine not just women as a group but women as individuals and as differentiated by race, ethnicity, class, and other identity-based categories.


  1. Alexander, A. C. (2012). Change in Women’s Descriptive Representation and the Belief in Women’s Ability to Govern: A Virtuous Circle. Politics & Gender, 8(4), 437–464.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Alexander, A. C. (2015). Big Jumps in Women’s Presence in Parliaments: Are These Sufficient for Improving Beliefs in Women’s Ability to Govern? Advancing Women in Leadership, 35, 82–89.Google Scholar
  3. Alexander, A. C., & Welzel, C. (2011). Empowering Women: The Role of Emancipative Beliefs. European Sociological Review, 27(3), 364–384.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Anzia, S. F., & Berry, C. R. (2011). The Jackie (and Jill) Robinson Effect: Why Do Congresswomen Outperform Congressmen? American Journal of Political Science, 55(3), 478–493.Google Scholar
  5. Baldez, L. (2002). Why Women Protest. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Ballington, J. (2008). Equality in Politics: A Survey of Women and Men in Parliaments. Geneva: Inter-Parliamentary Union.Google Scholar
  7. Baltrunaite, A., Bello, P., Casarico, A., & Profeta, P. (2014). Gender Quotas and the Quality of Politicians. Journal of Public Economics, 118, 62–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Barnes, T. D. (2016). Gendering Legislative Behavior: Institutional Constraints and Collaboration. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Barnes, T. D., & Córdova, A. (2016). Making Space for Women: Explaining Citizen Support for Legislative Gender Quotas in Latin America. Journal of Politics, 78(3), 670–686.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Barnes, T. D., & Burchard, S. M. (2012). ‘Engendering’ Politics: The Impact of Descriptive Representation on Women’s Political Engagement in Sub-Saharan Africa. Comparative Political Studies, 46(7), 767–790.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Beaman, L., Chattopadhyay, R., Duflo, E., Pande, R., & Topalova, P. (2009). Powerful Women: Does Exposure Reduce Bias? The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 12(4), 1497–1540.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Beaman, L., Pande, R., & Cirone, A. (2012). Politics as a Male Domain and Empowerment in India. In S. Franceschet, M. L. Krook, & J. M. Piscopo (Eds.), The Impact of Gender Quotas (pp. 208–226). New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Bejarano, C. (2013). The Latina Advantage: Gender, Race, and Political Success. Austin: University of Texas Press.Google Scholar
  14. Besley, T. J., Folke, O., Persson, T., & Rickne, J. (2015). Gender Quotas and the Crisis of the Mediocre Man: Theory and Evidence from Sweden. American Economic Review, 107(8), 2204–2242.Google Scholar
  15. Bjarnegård, E., & Kenny, M. (2016). Comparing Candidate Selection: A Feminist Institutionalist Approach. Government & Opposition, 51(3), 370–392.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Bjarnegård, E., & Zetterberg, P. (2016). Political Parties and Gender Quota Implementation: The Role of Bureaucratized Candidate Selection Procedures. Comparative Politics, 48(3), 393–417.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Bolzendahl, C. (2014). Opportunities and Expectations: The Gendered Organization of Legislative Committees in Germany, Sweden, and the United States. Gender & Society, 28(6), 847–976.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Caul, M. (2001). Political Parties and the Adoption of Candidate Gender Quotas: A Cross-National Analysis. Journal of Politics, 63(4), 1214–1229.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Celis, K., & Erzeel, S. (2017). The Complementarity Advantage: Parties, Representatives, and Newcomers’ Access to Power. Parliamentary Affairs, 70(1), 43–61.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Clayton, A. (2015). Women’s Political Engagement Under Quota-mandated Female Representation: Evidence from a Randomized Policy Experiment. Comparative Political Studies, 48(3), 333–369.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Dahlerup, D., & Freidenvall, L. (2005). Quotas as a ‘Fast Track’ to Equal Representation of Women. International Feminist Journal of Politics, 7(1), 26–48.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Dahlerup, D., & Norris, P. (2014). On the Fast Track: An Integrated Theory for the Global Spread of Electoral Gender Quotas. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, Washington, DC, August 28–31.Google Scholar
  23. Franceschet, S., & Piscopo, J. M. (2008). Gender Quotas and Women’s Substantive Representation: Lessons from Argentina. Politics & Gender, 4(3), 393–425.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Franceschet, S., & Piscopo, J. M. (2014). Sustaining Gendered Practices? Power and Elite Networks in Argentina. Comparative Political Studies, 47(1), 86–111.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Fulton, S. A. (2012). Running Backwards and in High Heels: The Gendered Quality Gap and Incumbent Electoral Success. Political Research Quarterly, 65(2), 303–314.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Fulton, S. A. (2014). When Gender Matters: Macro-dynamics and Micro-mechanisms. Political Behavior, 36(3), 605–630.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Funk, K., Hinojosa, M., & Piscopo, J. M. 2018. Still Left Behind: Gender, Political Parties, and Latin America’s Pink Tide. Social Politics [in press].Google Scholar
  28. Hinojosa, M. (2012). Selecting Women, Electing Women: Political Representation and Candidate Selection in Latin America. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.Google Scholar
  29. Hinojosa, M., Fridkin, K. L., & Kittilson, M. C. (2017). The Impact of Descriptive Representation on “Persistent” Gender Gaps: Political Engagement and Political Trust in Uruguay. Politics, Groups, and Identities, 5(3), 435–453.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Hughes, M. M. (2011). Intersectionality, Quotas, and Minority Women’s Political Representation Worldwide. American Political Science Review, 105(3), 604–620.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Hughes, M. M. (2013). The Intersection of Gender and Minority Status in National Legislatures: The Minority Women Legislative Index. Legislative Studies Quarterly, 38(4), 489–516.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU). (2017a). 50 Years of History at a Glance. Retrieved February 15, 2017, from
  33. Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU). (2017b). Situation as of 1st January 2017: World Average. Retrieved February 15, 2017, from
  34. Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU). (2017c). Situation as of 1st January 2017: World Classification. Retrieved February 15, 2017, from
  35. Joshi, D., & Och, M. (2014). Talking About My Generation and Class: Unpacking the Descriptive Representation of Women in Asian Parliaments. Women’s Studies International Forum, 47(A), 168–179.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Kanthak, K., & Krause, G. A. (2012). The Diversity Paradox: Political Parties, Legislatures, and the Organizational Foundations of Representation in America. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Kathlene, L. (1995). Ways Women Politicians Are Making a Difference. In D. L. Dodson (Ed.), Gender and Policymaking (pp. 31–39). New Brunswick: Center for Women in American Politics.Google Scholar
  38. Kerevel, Y. P., & Atkeson, L. R. (2013). Explaining the Marginalization of Women in Legislative Institutions. The Journal of Politics, 75(4), 980–992.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Kittilson, M. C. (2006). Challenging Parties, Changing Parliaments: Women and Elected Office in Contemporary Western Europe. Ohio: Ohio State University Press.Google Scholar
  40. Kittilson, M., & Schwindt-Bayer, L. (2012). The Gendered Effects of Electoral Institutions. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Krook, M. L. (2017). Violence Against Women in Politics. Journal of Democracy, 28(1), 74–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Lawless, J. L., & Fox, R. L. (2010). It Still Takes a Candidate: Why Women Don’t Run for Office. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Mügge, L. (2016). Intersectionality, Recruitment, and Candidate Selection: Ethnic Minority Candidates in Dutch Parties. Parliamentary Affairs, 69(3), 512–530.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Murray, R. (2010). Second Among Equals? A Study of Whether France’s “Quota Women” Are Up to the Job. Politics & Gender, 6(1), 93–118.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Norris, P., & Lovenduski, J. (1995). Political Recruitment: Gender, Race and Class in the British Parliament. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  46. O’Brien, D. Z. (2012). Quotas and Qualifications in Uganda. In S. Franceschet, M. L. Krook, & J. M. Piscopo (Eds.), The Impact of Gender Quotas (pp. 57–71). New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. O’Brien, D. Z. (2015). Rising to the Top: Gender, Political Performance, and Party Leadership in Parliamentary Democracies. American Journal of Political Science, 59(4), 1022–1039.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. O’Brien, D. Z. (2016). Righting Conventional Wisdom: Women and Right Parties in Advanced Parliamentary Democracies. Presented at the APSA Conference, Philadelphia.Google Scholar
  49. O’Brien, D. Z., & Rickne, J. (2016). Gender Quotas and Women’s Political Leadership. American Political Science Review, 110(1), 112–126.Google Scholar
  50. O’Brien, D. Z., & Piscopo, J. M. (Forthcoming). The Impact of Women in Parliament. In S. Franceschet, M. L. Krook, & N. Tan (Eds.), Global Handbook of Women’s Political Rights. New York: Palgrave.Google Scholar
  51. Paxton, P. (1997). Women in National Legislatures: A Cross-national Analysis. Social Science Research, 26(4), 442–464.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Paxton, P., & Hughes, M. M. (2016). Women, Politics, and Power: A Global Perspective (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
  53. Paxton, P., & Kunovich, S. (2003). Women’s Political Representation: The Importance of Ideology. Social Forces, 81(5), 87–114.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Picado León, H., & Brenes Villalobos, L. D. (2014). Evaluando la paridad y la alternancia. Derecho Electoral, 18, 384–414.Google Scholar
  55. Piscopo, J. M. (2015). States as Gender Equality Activists: The Evolution of Quota Laws in Latin America. Latin American Politics and Society, 57(3), 29–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Piscopo, J. M. (2016). When Informality Advantages Women: Quota Networks, Electoral Rules, and Candidate Selection in Mexico. Government & Opposition, 51(3), 487–512.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Piscopo, J. M. (2018). Parity without Equality in Costa Rica. In L. Schwindt-Bayer (Ed.), Gender and Representation in Latin America. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  58. Preece, J. R. (2016). Mind the Gender Gap: An Experiment on the Influence of Self-efficacy on Political Interest. Politics & Gender, 12(1), 198–217.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Roberts, A., Seawright, J., & Cyr, J. (2013). Do Electoral Laws Affect Women’s Representation? Comparative Political Studies, 46(12), 1555–1581.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Schneider, M. C., Holman, M. R., Diekman, A. B., & McAndrew, T. (2015). Power, Conflict, and Community. Political Psychology, 37(4), 515–531.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Schwindt-Bayer, L. (2011). Women Who Win: Social Backgrounds, Paths to Power, and Political Ambition in Latin American Legislatures. Politics & Gender, 7(1), 1–33.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Shames, S. (2017). Out of the Running: Why Millennials Reject Political Careers and Why It Matters. New York: New York University Press.Google Scholar
  63. United Nations. (2014). Table 1: Human Development Index and Its Components. Retrieved February 15, 2017, from
  64. United Nations. (2015). Gender Development Index. Retrieved February 15, 2017, from
  65. Weeks, A. C., & Baldez, L. (2015). Quotas and Qualifications: The Impact of Gender Quota Laws on the Qualifications of Legislators in the Italian Parliament. European Political Science Review, 7(1), 119–144.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Diana Z. O’Brien
    • 1
  • Jennifer M. Piscopo
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceTexas A&M UniversityCollege StationUSA
  2. 2.Department of PoliticsOccidental CollegeLos AngelesUSA

Personalised recommendations