Women in Politics

Women in Costa Rica, despite the always present machismo thing, have made great strides in the political machinery of Costa Rica.  This was accomplished through a series of laws passed to make sure women were represented in office.  Surprisingly, it worked!  Here is a release from Rice University providing a summary of a study done by Mark P Jones, associate professor of political science at Rice University.

How to elect more women? Look to Costa Rica

In 2002, the percentage of women municipal legislators in Costa Rica was unmatched by any other democratically elected national legislature in the world. A recent study examines how this Latin American country achieved such an enviable record.

In the past decade, a handful of Latin American countries, as well as Belgium and, more recently, France, adopted legislation to improve women's representation in their legislatures. Not all of these laws have been effective, but as a Rice political scientist found, countries could learn a lesson from Costa Rica's success.

Mark P. Jones, an associate professor of political science at Rice University, recently completed a study on quota legislation in Costa Rica where, since 1990, significantly more women have been elected in that country's municipal elections. Published in the November 2004 issue of The Journal of Politics , the report sheds light on the reasons why there has been such a mixed record of success with other countries' quota legislation and what they might learn from Costa Rica's experience.

“There are few places in the world where there's genuine equality between men and women and where quota legislation wouldn't be useful,” says Jones.” Other than in a few Scandinavian countries, that type of equality has been elusive.”

Quota legislation was first adopted in Argentina in 1991, but the issue of women's electoral representation did not receive worldwide attention until 1995 when the United Nation's Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing recommended a series of steps to increase the number of women holding public office. In all, 17 democracies have enacted legislation addressing this issue, but many with mixed results.
“There really have only been a few unqualified successes,” explains Jones. “One of them has been Costa Rica, whose experience with quota laws offered the best example for studying the circumstances in which they'd be effective and when they might fail.”

Costa Rica was an ideal study primarily for two reasons. Over a relatively short period of time, the legislature adopted three sets of progressively stringent quota laws, while other factors that may have influenced women's electoral representation remained unchanged (for example, the political culture, status of women, political parties and the electoral system).

In his study, Jones employed data from Costa Rican municipal elections to identify the relative effect of the three forms of quota legislation and compared these to the outcomes of all elections prior to the quota laws. The first quota legislation in 1994 basically relied on Costa Rica's political parties to voluntarily increase the participation of women in elections. A second set of laws in 1998 mandated that women occupy at least 40 percent of each party's candidate list, and in the 2002 election the law required that women be in at least 40 percent of the electable positions.

Like the United States, Costa Rica is a presidential democracy whose power is distributed among the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government. Jones chose to analyze its 81 municipal legislatures, whose candidates are elected from closed-party lists.
“Very often, women who were selected to be on these lists were placed at the bottom of the list in positions from which they had no hope of being elected,” explains Jones. “It took over 12 years of constant effort by a strong quota advocacy movement, but their persistence paid off.”

In 1998, the percentage of female legislators increased to 34 percent from 14 percent, and in the 2002 elections, the percentage of women elected to municipal office reached 47 -- a percentage, says Jones, that was “unmatched by any other democratically elected national legislature in the world.”

Jones believes Costa Rica's experience provides a “silver lining for quota supporters in the many countries that have adopted ineffective quota legislation.” In spite of its flaws, says Jones, this legislation may provide supporters with leverage that can be used to achieve more effective quota legislation in the future.

“Clearly,” he concludes, “stringent requirements are necessary, and supporters of such legislation need to be careful to push for the most effective laws possible.”

Jones joined Rice's political science department as an associate professor this year, coming from Michigan State University where he was an associate professor in the political science department. Jones also taught at several other universities, including the Universidad de la Republica in Uruguay and the Universidad de San Andres in Argentina.

A specialist in comparative political institutions and Latin American politics and author of Electoral Laws and the Survival of Presidential Democracies by the University of Notre Dame Press, Jones has contributed numerous scholarly articles to the American Journal of Political Science, the Journal of Politics, Latin American Research Review and Comparative Political Studies, among other publications.
Jones earned his bachelor's degree in political science from Tulane University and his Ph.D. degree from the University of Michigan.

To learn more about this research, contact Jones at mpjones@rice.edu, or B.J. Almond in the Office of News and Media Relations at balmond@rice.edu . Research @ Rice , 2005


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