Gender Quotas, Women's Substantive Representation, and Barriers to Legislative Transformation: Emerging Lessons from Iraq

Houlihan, Erin Colleen Casper, Department of Politics, University of Virginia
Leblang, David, Department of Politics, University of Virginia

With the impacts of the Arab Spring still reverberating in the region, the situation of women's rights and women's representation in newly forming governments presents a fundamental and worrisome question for both international observers and feminists in the transitioning societies. Iraq's recent experience with gender quotas and emerging lessons about the substantive representation of women present a timely and instructive case study. The broad mobilization of Iraqi women's groups and the international community in support of Iraq's constitutional women's quota for parliament contributed to a mandate for women politicians to pursue women's legislative and policy interests. The undemocratic mechanisms used to implement the quota, however, contribute to negative perceptions of "quota women" and the low status of existing national women's machinery. I find that some women politicians do provide substantive representation in actions and processes, but that they have had limited success in transforming legislative outcomes. Challenges to gendering legislation include institutional rules and norms that allow unregulated political parties to control the legislative agenda, enable the executive branch through the Council of Ministers to co-opt particular legislative initiatives, and encourage competition rather than cooperation among parliamentary committees and individual parliamentarians. Though other factors likely also contribute to the limited success of women's legislation, institutional context in Iraq's post-conflict state plays a significant role in women's ability to successfully develop and pass bills to advance women's gender interests, which may be further challenged by negative perceptions of quota women.

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MA (Master of Arts)
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