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The ‘fast track’ approach for increasing women’s representation in politics through the adoption of electoral gender quotas has replaced the ‘incremental approach’ (waiting for cultural, political and socioeconomic developments over time) in recent years. Scholars have disagreed whether increasing women’s representation in sub-Saharan Africa where legislatures are weak and executives are strong is meaningless or may even undermine democracy; or increasing women’s representation results in significant substantive or symbolic representation effects. This article compares two divergent cases: Botswana, a stable multiparty democracy in southern Africa and Rwanda, an increasingly authoritarian single party dominant state in east Africa. In Botswana, gender quota campaigns have raised awareness but have been unsuccessful in achieving quotas, and women’s parliamentary representation is low and continues to fall. In Rwanda, a constitutional gender quota, including reserved seats combined with voluntary party quotas for women have resulted in a majority female lower house of parliament—the only such parliament in the world. These cases suggest that a democratic state is not necessarily more likely to adopt gender quotas or have more women in parliament than a less democratic one and that there are other factors that are more important in determining both. Moreover, in single party dominant systems with limited democracy, like Rwanda, elected women are able to represent women's interests. And campaigns to adopt quotas, even when unsuccessful as in democratic Botswana, can contribute to substantive and symbolic representation effects even with only limited descriptive representation. Thus, the conditions under which and the ways in which women's interests are represented must be understood broadly.


Author accepted manuscript version of an article published in:

Bauer, Gretchen and Jennie E. Burnet Gender Quotas, Democracy and Women’s Representation in Africa: Some Insights from Democratic Botswana and Autocratic Rwanda. Women’s Studies International Forum 41(2):103-112.

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