Gender quotas, gender mainstreaming and gender relations in politics

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This article seeks to reintroduce discussions on gender relations in politics back into scholarly and political debate. Many countries have adopted gender quotas, but it is unclear whether their implementation has meaningfully changed the prevalent inequalities governing gender relations in politics. This article considers whether the implementation of gender quotas could promote change, and assesses this change with reference to five criteria formerly used to assess the strategy of gender mainstreaming. These are a shift towards a more comprehensive concept of gender equality; the incorporation of a gender perspective intersected with other inequalities in mainstream politics; equal political representation; organizational changes in selection and recruitment mechanisms as well as the functioning of politics; and, finally, the displacement of hierarchies, and the empowerment of subjects. Reflection on and empirical illustrations of gender quotas with regard to these criteria reveal a mixed picture, demonstrating the need to reintroduce discussions about gender equality within politics back into gender quota debates. This discussion will not focus on the legitimacy of or need for gender quotas, but on how their implementation can contribute to the improvement of gender relations in politics beyond a quantitative sense. Approaching gender quotas through the use of criteria devised for assessing the gender mainstreaming strategy is helpful in exploring the potential of gender quotas in the transformation of gender relations.