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Quota Problems: Combating the Dangers of Essentialism

  • Jane Mansbridge (a1)

As I write, descriptive representation by gender improves substantive outcomes for women in every polity for which we have a measure. And as I write, significant representation by gender cannot be achieved in any existing polity without some form of quota. At this historical moment, therefore, quotas play an important democratic role in increasing gender equality. Yet because quotas potentially produce institutional rigidity and their need should decrease as structural and cultural conditions improve, it is best to institute them in their most flexible form. Because quotas also encourage essentialism, it is best to institute them in conjunction with major efforts to define in nonessentialist ways the reasons for their institution. Although quotas will inevitably increase essentialist beliefs, a conscious, concerted campaign could mitigate the most destructive effects of this tendency.Many thanks to Lisa Baldez for help in editing these thoughts. Comments welcome:

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