International Organization

Research Article

International Politics and the Spread of Quotas for Women in Legislatures

Sarah Sunn Busha1

a1 Politics at Princeton University, Princeton, N.J. E-mail:


Quotas to promote women's representation in the world's legislatures have spread to more than one hundred countries. The diffusion of gender quotas poses a puzzle since they have often been adopted in countries where women have low status. International influence and inducements best explain quota adoption in developing countries. Promoting gender equality, including through gender quotas, has become a key part of international democracy promotion. The international legitimacy of gender quotas leads them to be adopted through two causal pathways: directly, through postconflict peace operations, and indirectly, by encouraging countries, especially those that depend on foreign aid, to signal their commitment to democracy by adopting quotas. An event history analysis, which controls for other relevant factors, shows that the hypothesized relationships exist. Further support comes from a process-tracing analysis of Afghanistan's 2004 quota.

Sarah Sunn Bush is a Ph.D. candidate in Politics at Princeton University, Princeton, N.J. She can be reached at


I thank Chris Achen, Mark Beissinger, Lisa Camner, Jeff Colgan, Christina Davis, Andrea Everett, Emilie Hafner-Burton, Susan Hyde, John Ikenberry, Amaney Jamal, Mareike Kleine, Gwyneth McClendon, Mike McKoy, Mike Miller, Helen Milner, Andrew Moravcsik, Stefanie Nanes, Gregory Wawro, two anonymous reviewers, the IO editors, and especially Robert Keohane for their helpful feedback on earlier versions of this article. I also thank Emilie Hafner-Burton, Susan Hyde, and Christine Min Wotipka for generously sharing their data and am grateful to the individuals who agreed to be interviewed. Earlier versions of this article were presented at Princeton's International Relations Graduate Research Seminar and the 2009 Annual Convention of the International Studies Association.