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Iceland’s prime minister, Katrin Jakobsdottir, after voting at a polling station, Reykjavik, Iceland, Sept. 25, 2021. Iceland’s prime minister, Katrin Jakobsdottir, speaks to the media after voting at a polling station in Reykjavik, Iceland, Sept. 25, 2021 (AP photo by Arni Torfason).

Quotas Get More Women Elected, but Gender Parity Is Still a Long Way Off

Friday, Oct. 29, 2021

Iceland almost made history at the end of September, when it looked like the country had elected Europe’s first majority-female parliament, with women holding 33 of 63 seats. After a recount, however, the share of seats held by women declined to 30. Still, in a world where the average share of female lawmakers is 25.5 percent, even this degree of parity is an achievement. It might seem especially satisfactory because it was done without any mandatory quotas requiring a certain level of women’s representation in parliament. But three of Iceland’s five largest parties had adopted voluntary gender quotas, which appears to have made a difference.

As many public opinion polls confirm, gender quotas are generally unpopular. When they come up for discussion in my class on international relations theory, some male students insist that quotas for women are only acceptable “as long as they are qualified,” while female students often protest that they don’t relish getting any job just because of their gender. Conservatives around the world tend to make similar arguments about quotas of any kind. Yet, when considering that nearly three-quarters of the world’s parliamentary seats are held by men, we don’t typically ask if they are qualified to be there.  ...

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