For decades, countries have attempted to address the lack of female representation in legislative bodies by putting forth different kinds of formal and informal quotas that mandate certain numbers of women representatives in legislative roles. International organizations have suggested that a threshold of thirty percent of women representatives in a legislative body provides a sufficient baseline for women’s political representation that encourages coalitions and leadership. However, despite having voluntary party quotas, Canada’s House of Commons has not met this threshold as only twenty-seven percent of Members of Parliament (MP) self-identify as women. In addition, of the twenty-seven percent, many are white, cisgender, able-bodied women; few Black, Indigenous, of colour, queer, and disabled women MPs are voted in. To address the insufficient, non-intersectional measures of Canada’s voluntary party quotas, this essay argues for the implementation of Tanzania’s reserved seat quotas. First, this essay reviews the measures taken by international organizations and Canada’s political parties that aim to increase women’s representation. Next, this essay discusses the benefits to hard quotas and determines that, due to Canada’s political system and parliamentary size, a reserved seat model would greatly address the lack of intersectional women’s representation in the House of Commons. Finally, this essay critiques and suggests as a solution the Tanzanian model of reserved seat quotas due to its attractive method of indirectly voting in women representatives. This indirect method offsets a negative phenomenon known as “quota women,” in which voters and political representatives view women legislators who are elected by quotas as less qualified and undeserving of their seats. For these reasons, this essay presents a strong argument for the inclusion of reserved seat quotas in Canada’s House of Commons to increase the intersectional representation of women MPs.
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In an effort to create global norms regarding gender representation in legislative bodies, many international organizations have put forth recommendations for policy solutions. The United Nations has held conferences for furthering women’s rights globally for the past three decades. The most significant conference supporting women in political office was the 1995 United Nations Fourth Conference on Women. The “Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action” advanced at the conference encouraged states to commit to comprising their legislative bodies of a minimum of 30% female elected officials, a threshold that is most likely to encourage women coalitions and leadership. 189 countries unanimously adopted this plan. By the early 2000s, over 100 countries had implemented quotas involving women in legislative roles.
Nevertheless, little progress has been made towards substantive gender equality within legislatures worldwide. According to the Inter-parliamentary Union (IU), before the proliferation of gender quotas inspired by the Beijing Conference, women made up 12% of all lower houses. Almost twenty-five years later, women only make up 23.1% of all lower houses. These statistics are far from the minimum 30% threshold that 189 countries committed to almost three decades ago.
Canada is among those countries that have yet to reach the target. In the previous 2015 federal election, Canadians elected a Parliament composed of 27% female Members of Parliament (MPs). This disparity is greatly concerning — especially for a country whose governing party claims to be committed to gender equality. The disparity can be partially attributed to the ineffectiveness of soft quotas, which are voluntary quotas that political parties regulate internally without sanctions for noncompliance.
Because voluntary quotas and other supplementary methods have been in place for decades and have not yielded their desired outcome of gender equality in the House of Commons, the Canadian government should consider other strategies to increase female political representation. One successful example is the Tanzanian strategy of reserved seat gender quotas for female officials, which encouraged the election of a National Assembly that was 37% female. The strategy also offers a beneficial method of indirectly electing candidates to seats, which disrupts a negative phenomenon of quotas known as “quota women.” The Tanzanian example poses some limitations to addressing all the factors that contribute to a woman’s electability and would need to be adjusted to account for the institutional differences between Canada and Tanzania. However, the Tanzanian strategy would be a useful initial step for Canada to increase female representation within the House of Commons and could be used to further intersectional representation.
The federal government has not passed concrete legislation to affirm Canada’s support for addressing the underrepresentation of women in politics, even after committing to it at the 1995 Beijing Conference. While there are many mechanisms aimed at increasing the number of women in political leadership throughout the electoral process, softer quotas and civil society solutions remain ineffective. As this paper will examine in more detail, Canada already implements numerous programs and incentives to assist women in politics. In addition, a common strategy to increase female representation in legislatures is the use of voluntary party quotas. Both the Liberal and the New Democratic Party use these quotas; however, the quotas have done little to create gender parity. Female representation can only be reflected in the legislature as a whole if a majority of seats are occupied by parties who employ these voluntary quotas.
A solution to the problem of the underrepresentation of female politicians must conform to the problem’s scope. Female underrepresentation in legislatures corresponds to institutional constraints, or a lack thereof. Pierson describes an institutional scope to a policy problem as taking into account “rules of the game that influence political behaviour… [such as] the allocation of economic and political resources…and consequently altering ensuing political developments.” Because the lack of female representatives occurs within a legislative body, a formal organization responsible for passing policy, the response to this problem must be an institutional one. Thus, the formal legislation of hard gender quotas in the House of Commons would institutionally shape the governing body of Canada. Additionally, this institutional response is appropriate due to the ineffectiveness of softer mechanisms, such as grassroots initiatives, which are not institutionally grounded. Hence, the Canadian government must turn to other single-member plurality nations for guidance.
The federal government of Tanzania, which uses a first-past-the-post (FPTP) electoral system and a single-member plurality system, has also struggled with increasing its representation of women in its lower house. In 1995, before the Beijing Conference, Tanzania legislated that 15% of all seats in the National Assembly be reserved for women as elected officials. In 1997, Tanzanians elected 17.5% female MPs. This was only 0.5% less than the percentage of women who were represented in the 1997 Canadian House of Commons. This commonality across the two nations demonstrates the similar degree to which both countries faced the challenge of female political representation. However, in 2005, the Tanzanian government amended its constitution to include a minimum of 30% of seats in the National Assembly to be reserved for women, and, currently, women make up 37% of the Tanzanian National Assembly because of the adoption of reserved seat quotas.  The use of voluntary party gender quotas is also present amongst Tanzanian political parties. For example, the Chama Cha Mapinduzi party constitution commits to “the equal… representation of women and men (50-50) in all elective public bodies.”
According to some scholars, a legislative body should generally reflect the population it serves as this may “motivate previously underrepresented groups to engage in the political process.” While many mechanisms for female representation exist, quotas remain the most effective strategy at increasing the number of women MPs in legislatures because they artificially encourage this representation. Amongst these quotas are three types: reserved seat quotas, legal candidate quotas, and voluntary party quotas.
Hard, or legislated quotas are political-institutional responses to the problem of female political underrepresentation. Within this category exists reserved seat quotas and legal candidate quotas. Somani defines the former as “mandates by law…that a certain minimum number of seats be set aside in the legislature for women,” while the latter legislates the number of women a party must nominate. Both of these quotas require the amendment of a country’s constitution or electoral laws to incorporate the mandates for quotas. Hard quotas are effective at creating a more gender-diverse legislature, especially in countries where women representatives are severely under-elected. Furthermore, reserved seat quotas are an incentive for parties to “put forward female candidates in order to maximize their seat allotment.” These benefits have motivated the implementation of hard quotas since the “Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action” in 1995.
One critique of a quota approach is that, unless further affirmative action criteria are put forth, the pipeline problem continues, and quotas do not function effectively for all women. The pipeline problem is the lack of marginalized women within the political realm who are eligible to run for political office. The pipeline problem can be explained by Crenshaw’s theory of intersectionality, or how race, gender, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status intersect to explain unique experiences of women who face multiple forms of oppression. An intersectional approach to increasing women in politics is important to consider when examining the different rates at which Black, Indigenous, of colour, queer, and disabled women are elected compared to their white, straight, able-bodied counterparts. For example, a female candidate that faces multiple levels of oppression, such as lower socioeconomic status or being a woman of colour, may be less likely to become elected, even if given an opportunity via a gender quota. It is important to consider the intersectional approach to quotas when finding equitable reforms to ensure all women are included in gender quotas.
Hard quotas may also result in the phenomenon of labelling women candidates as “quota women.” The concept refers to the risk of implementing hard quotas where male representatives will perceive women elected by the quota mandate as less qualified than other representatives who were elected through the traditional electoral process. Consequences can range from male representatives not collaborating with “quota women” to men preventing women from speaking in legislatures. This evidence demonstrates that hard quotas can, in certain contexts, be less popular mechanisms for women to be represented in legislatures. However, research by Clayton indicates that the “quota women” phenomenon does not occur in countries in which the public believes that women truly are disadvantaged, and therefore, deserve affirmative action measures. In addition, contrary to previous research, “quota women” are just as, and sometimes more, qualified than their non-quota counterparts. Therefore, hard quotas may have a different effect on the public’s opinions if the public recognizes the history of discrimination of women in legislatures.
The Benefits of the Tanzanian Model
The Tanzanian example of reserved seat quotas would make a suitable model for Canada because it addresses the above arguments. Larserud and Taphorn (2007) state that it is important to consider a nation’s electoral system when determining the type of gender quota that is best suited to that particular nation because gender quotas are complementary to electoral systems. In addition, research strongly suggests that reserved seat quotas are most effectively employed in FPTP systems and are the most common quota in plurality systems. Both Tanzania and Canada use a FPTP system and have similar-sized parliaments, with 393 seats and 338 seats, respectively.
The Tanzanian National Assembly employs a 30% reserved seat quota that encourages the election of 37% female representatives, with 30% of women elected to quota seats and 7% of women elected to traditional constituency seats. The government legislated this quota by amending its constitution. However, before the legislation of hard quotas, political parties committed to voluntary quotas. Party constitutions, as previously mentioned, declare the importance of advocating for gender equality within the National Assembly. These were in place for decades before Tanzania’s electoral reform of reserved seat quotas, yet they did not drastically increase female representation. Soft quotas are difficult to enforce, and if majority parties do not comply, they are often useless. Tanzania’s soft quotas are still in place, but female representation only increased once the government legislated hard quotas to the National Assembly.
One major benefit to the Tanzanian strategy is its indirect method of filling reserved seats with candidates. It is important to note that the political parties create lists of suitable candidates, after which the seats are “proportionally distributed among the political parties that meet a 5% threshold of popular votes in the parliamentary election.” Candidates are elected indirectly to the National Assembly. Specifically, before elections, parties submit a list of preferred candidates to the National Electoral Committee, the body that distributes the quota seats accordingly. Internally, parties use mechanisms such as delegates to vote for candidate nominees. In addition, because female candidates are chosen indirectly, there is less risk of a woman losing directly to a man.
One challenge to reserved seat quotas is the perception of “quota-women” by voters and male representatives. This phenomenon is due to the gendered assumptions of female candidates in general. However, Tanzania’s method of indirectly electing candidates to reserved seats lessens the “quota women” phenomenon when the mechanism is compared to other countries that use reserved seat quotas. This disparity across methods occurs because Tanzanian’s indirect method does not “creat[e] a gendered perception that constituency seats are for men and quota seats are for women.” Specifically, voters do not elect women candidates to quota seats, but rather internal councils elect the women to quota seats. Therefore, women in quota seats do not compete against men for constituency seats, which may give rise to the appearance that they are taking a “man’s seat.”
Another challenge to a reserved seat quota model is the difficulty of female MPs switching from reserved seats to constituency seats; however, the Tanzanian strategy encourages the election of women to constituency seats. When compared to other nations with reserved seat quotas, Tanzanian MPs find it easier to shift seats. Tanzania’s system is more effective at encouraging switches as it does not inhibit the election of women who switch seats. Specifically, the Tanzanian strategy does not enforce the stereotype that constituency seats are for men, which in other methods, can inhibit female quota- and non-quota candidates from being elected to constituency seats. In addition, the Tanzanian government directly encourages quota candidates to run in constituency districts. Because Tanzania places a two-term limit on a representative’s seat, a female incumbent must switch to running in constituency districts for regular seats. The indirect method of selecting women representatives allows for quota seat candidates to run in districts — against men and non-quota women candidates — in later terms without labelling them as “quota women.”
One aspect of female political representation in both countries is the gender-based discrimination faced by women MPs. Research shows that, on top of under-represented female MPs in the Canadian House of Commons, the few that are elected face severe gender discrimination. Combatting biases and prejudice is important because discrimination can deter female MPs from working with male colleagues, which hinders party cooperation. Many anti-discrimination strategies employ both civil society measures and voluntary quotas. Specifically, the federal government supports grassroots and civil society initiatives such as Daughters of the Vote and Women in House, which educate women on the political process and facilitate discussions of gender and racial discrimination. There are also government grants for funding women candidate’s political campaigns, as campaign funds are a barrier that prevent many women from beginning their run for office. Furthermore, both the New Democratic Party and the Liberal Party of Canada employ internal party quotas of 50% and 25%, respectively. However, even despite the voluntary party quotas and soft measures, many female MPs still face multiple forms of discrimination.
These soft measures and quotas have done very little to accomplish female representation in the House of Commons. As women only make up approximately one-quarter of seats, and racialized, disabled, and queer women are even less represented, soft measures and voluntary party quotas are not effective. An obvious solution is reserved seat quotas, following the Tanzanian strategy. Canada is a FPTP system and reserved seats fit well with this system. The Canadian government must amend its Elections Act to include a mandatory quota of 30% reserved seats for women. In addition, the Tanzanian strategy of indirectly electing women to seats poses less public backlash. Furthermore, because the Tanzanian strategy fits well with Canada due to similarity in parliamentary size, electoral system, and history of female representation, implementing reserved seat quotas in Canada may come with fewer challenges than anticipated.
However, one difference between Tanzania’s strategy and Canada’s implementation of it would involve the method of legislation. The Tanzanian reserved seat quota law exists as an amendment to its Constitution. However, the Canada Elections Act, an Act of Parliament, outlines all Canadian electoral laws. A revision to an Act of Parliament is far easier than a constitutional amendment as it follows the normal course of a standard bill passing through the House and the Senate and would require a majority of seats to legislate it. While the Tanzanian strategy presents an initial model for Canada to emulate, such as with the indirect method of electing candidates, institutional differences between the two countries must be taken into account.
Another challenge to a reserved seat quota approach is the public opinion of affirmative action measures, especially hard gender quotas, in a society that embraces equality feminism. However, this challenge can be overcome. First, the right to affirmative action measures exists within the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Specifically, Section 15.2 allows for the equality of all groups within Canada through affirmative action programs. In addition, because some hard quota models do not include intersectional criteria, all women do not equally benefit from quotas. The public opinion of affirmative action may already be skeptical of one group receiving preferential treatment, and by including more criteria for racialized, less-affluent, or less-educated women, the public may view this approach as preferential treatment. However, in the Canadian context, by using the Tanzanian method of indirectly choosing candidates, more intersectional criteria should be added to the reserved seat quotas to encourage the representation of marginalized women. While this policy approach, and hard quotas in general, do not solve the pipeline problem, the Tanzanian method of indirectly electing women to quota seats would allow for the House of Commons to include more diversity among women candidates and would incentivize their election to constituency seats against non-marginalized counterparts after their quota term ends.
The implementation of reserved seat quotas would greatly reduce the underrepresentation of women in the House of Commons. Women have long been underserved, especially in roles of leadership, with the drastic underrepresentation of women of colour and LGBTQ2S+ women due to intersectional structural barriers. The challenges of diversifying the House of Commons are reduced greatly when considering the Tanzanian method of reserved seat quotas. While implementation of the Tanzanian model does not address every factor that contributes to a woman’s electability and does not address the pipeline problem, it is a beneficial method to consider in order to begin Canada’s concrete commitment to increasing intersectional female political representation in its House of Commons.
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* Ana Brinkerhoff is a fourth-year undergraduate student at University College. She is completing Majors in Political Science and Sociology. Her research interests include political sociology, intersectional gender studies, critical carceral studies, and unenforced policy. Ana wishes to continue her education at the graduate level in the future and hopes to conduct research on the failures of the Canadian state and how this failure reinforces societal inequalities. Ana is from Vancouver, BC and is excited to return to campus in the Fall.
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 From “Political Parties in Africa through a Gender Lens,” by R. Kandawasvika-Nhundu, 2013. Strömsborg: International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance.
 From “Race, Sociopolitical Participation, and Black Empowerment,” by L. Bobo and F. D. Gilliam, Jr., 1990, The American Review of Political Science, 84, p. 377-393.
 From “An Integrated Model of Women’s Representation,” by L. A. Schwindt-Bayer and W. Mishler, 2005, Journal of Politics, 67, p. 407-428.
 From “Women’s Political Engagement Under Quota-Mandated Female Representation: Evidence From a Randomized Policy Experiment,” by A. Clayton, 2015, Comparative Political Studies, 48, p. 333-369.
 Somani, supra note 9.
 From “Beyond Quotas: Strategies to Promote Gender Equality in Elected Office,” by M. L. Krook and P. Norris, 2014, Political Studies, 62, p. 7. Copyright 2014 by Copyright Holder. Reprinted with permission.
 From “Women of color candidates: examining emergence and success in state legislative elections,” by P. Shah, J. Scott, and E. G. Juenke, 2018, Politics, Groups, and Identities, 7, p. 429-443.
 From “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color,” by K. Crenshaw, 1991, Stanford Law Review, 43, p. 1241-1299.
 Shah, Scott, and Juenke, supra note 17.
 From “Second Among Unequals? A Study of Whether France’s “Quota Women” are Up to the Job,” by R. Murray, 2010, Gender & Politics, 6, p. 93-118.
 From “Quotas and Party Priorities: Direct and Indirect Effects of Quota Laws,” by A. C. Weeks, 2019, Political Research Quarterly, 72, p. 849-862.
 Clayton, supra note 23.
 From “Introduction: Gender Quotas and Women’s Representation—New Directions in Research,” by M. L. Krook and P. Zetterberg, 2014, Representation, 50, p. 287-294.
 From .“Comparative perspectives on concepts of gender, ethnicity, and race,” by A. M. Tripp, 2016, Politics, Groups and Identities, 4, p. 320.
 From Designing for Equality, S. Larserud and R. Taphorn, 2007, Stockholm: International IDEA.
 Ibid at p. 12.
 From “Gender quotas, democracy, and women’s representation in Africa: Some insights from democratic Botswana and autocratic Rwanda,” by G. Bauer and J. E. Burnet, 2013, Women’s Studies International Forum, 41, p.103-112.
 Quotas Database, supra note 10.
 Quotas Database, supra note 10.
 Kandawasvika-Nhundu, supra note 20.
 Quotas Database, supra note 10.
 Somani, supra note 9.
 Inter-Parliamentary Union, supra note 6.
 From “Recruitment mechanisms for reserved seats for women in parliament and switches to non-quota seats: a comparative study of Tanzania and Uganda,” by V. Wang and M. Y. Yoon, 2018, Journal of Modern African Studies, 56, p. 300.
 From “Special Seats for Women in the National Legislature: The Case of Tanzania,” by M. Y. Yoon. 2008, Africa Today, 55, p. 61-86.
 Wang and Yoon, supra note 44, 301.
 Ibid, 299-324.
 From “Beyond quota seats for women in the Tanzanian legislature,” by M. Y. Yoon, 2016, Canadian Journal of African Studies, 50, p. 191-210.
 Wang and Yoon, supra note 44.
 Ibid, 301.
 Wang and Yoon, supra note 44.
 Ibid, 317.
 From “Unsettling the Gendered Power Paradigm: Discomfort, Dissonance and Dissention among Women in Local Government,” by C. McGregor and D. Clover, 2011, Canadian Journal of Education, 34, p. 248-281.
 From “Improving gender representation in Canadian federal politics and parliament,” by J. Galandy and D. S. Tavcer. 2019, Canadian Parliamentary Review, 42, p. 14.
 Daughter of the Vote. (2020). Equal Voice.
 Women in House. (2020). Women in House.
 Government of Canada funding of $282,000 will increase women’s participation in politics and public life. (2020). Government of Canada.
 Krook and Norris, supra note 26.
 From “Awaiting the Watershed: Women in Canada’s Parliament,” by M. Godwin, 2010, Canadian Parliamentary Review, 33, p. 32-37.
 Quotas Database, supra note 10.
 Wang and Yoon, supra note 44, 300.
 Amending Bills at Committee and Report Stages. (2020). House of Commons.
 Tripp, supra note 34.
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 From “Public Discourse versus Public Policy: Latinas/os, Affirmative Action, and the Court of Public Opinion,” by M. C. Ledesma, 2015, Association of Mexican American Educators Journal, 9, p. 57-72.