The presence of women in Arab legislatures has experienced a remarkable surge since the beginning of the 21st century, ascending from a mere 3.5 percent in 2000 to an impressive peak of nearly 18 percent in 2020. This progress can be attributed, to the implementation of gender quota systems aimed at addressing historic gender imbalances in political participation. The introduction of gender quotas, gained traction as a top-down strategy to accelerate women’s participation in politics. These quotas were not only viewed as mechanisms for achieving women’s rights but also as a means for Arab governments to align with international “democracy” benchmarks set by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, particularly among those receiving international financial support. Notably, this latter rationale has proven to be a potent motivation for conservative Muslim Arab governments, given that such policies are viewed as commendable indications of democratization by Western donors.
Eleven out of the twenty-two member states of the Arab League have embraced gender quotas since 2000.
See the table below:
Arab League Countries with Gender Quotas
|Country||Type||Adoption Timeline||Electoral System||Latest Parliamentary Results|
|Algeria||Political party quotas||2002||List PR||8%|
|Iraq||Legal Candidate quotas||2004||List PR||26%|
|Mauritania||Legal Candidate quotas||2006||TRS||22%|
|Morocco||Political Party quotas||2002||List PR||10.8%|
|Palestine||Legal Candidate quotas||2002||Parallel||13%|
|Tunisia||Political party quotas||2004||Parallel||28%|
|Both Sudan and Egypt have previously implemented quotas for the time periods indicated in parentheses.|
Global Database for Women (2010)
The average of women in national parliaments in the Middle East and North East by July 2023 is 17.7% of which 18.1% in the Middle East and 17.1% in North Africa.
Quotas are often pushed by grassroots women’s organizations that see quota as a mechanism to increase and institutionalize gender representation. However, resistance against gender quotas emerges from both secular feminists and Islamists alike. The former group criticizes the superficial nature of the policy, while the latter raises concerns about the perceived injustice of quotas favoring a specific group, particularly when that group represents women. As a result, this policy often manifests as a top-down decision facilitated by the state, commonly referred to as “state feminism“, rather than being a response to genuine social pressures. Despite initial opposition, the adoption of gender quotas often leads to Islamic parties capitalizing on them to achieve greater representation in legislative bodies. Notably, cases such as the Jordanian Islamic Action Front and the Moroccan Parti de la Justice et du Dévelopement demonstrate the successful utilization of gender quotas by Islamic parties. Furthermore, in Iraq, gender quotas have been imposed institutionally by international actors. In fact, the Arab world encompasses three distinct categories of gender quotas: political party quotas, legal candidates quotas, and reserved seats.
Concerning the situation in Jordan, its position in the Women’s Power Index, crafted by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), ranks third in the Arab world and 110th globally, indicating a gender equality challenge. With a political parity score of 22 out of 100 according to the CFR’s June 2023 report, Jordan’s engagement of women in political matters is meager. In terms of representation, only 17% of women participate in the Cabinet, 13% in the national legislature, and 32% in local government bodies. The UN’s “Women in Politics” report underscores that 12.3% of women’s parliamentary seats in Jordan are in the Lower House of Parliament, constituting 16 out of 130 members. Furthermore, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) reveals that quotas for decision-making bodies have bolstered women’s presence in the Parliament and local councils, benefiting rural women seeking political participation.
Advantages of the Quota System:
- Accelerating women’s participation. Gender quotas provide a practical pathway to swiftly increase the representation of women in political spaces. The quotas create a temporary affirmative action mechanism that assists women in overcoming systemic barriers that have historically hindered their political engagement.
- Changing gender perceptions. The implementation of quotas challenges societal norms and biases that have perpetuated women’s underrepresentation in politics. By positioning women in leadership roles, the quota system contributes to changing the perception of women’s capabilities and their rightful place in decision-making processes and to recognize the critical role they can play in the economic, political and societal development of countries.
- Enhancing policy priorities. Studies indicate that female lawmakers often prioritize welfare policies that focus on education, health, and gender equality. The presence of women in legislatures contributes to a more comprehensive and inclusive policy agenda that addresses diverse societal needs.
Disadvantages and challenges of the Quota System:
- Critics argue that quotas can compromise meritocracy by prioritizing gender over qualifications. This perception can undermine the legitimacy of women who are appointed through quotas, leading to concerns over their effectiveness in decision-making roles.
- Legitimacy Issues. Some voters may feel that quota-based appointments are not in line with their preferences, potentially diminishing public trust in the political process and the legitimacy of elected representatives.
- There is a concern that candidates selected through quotas may not always possess the required qualifications and expertise for their roles, potentially impacting the quality of governance.
- Sustainable Change. Critics argue that quotas alone may not guarantee substantial long-term change in societal attitudes and structural barriers. To ensure lasting transformation, efforts must be made to address deeply rooted gender biases and norms.
The quota system has emerged as a pivotal tool in addressing gender disparities within Arab legislatures. It practically helps to overcome socio-cultural barriers women faced during last decades in the Arab world. While the advantages of quotas, such as fast-tracking women’s representation and altering gender perceptions, are evident, challenges such as perceptions of legitimacy and maintaining meritocracy must be acknowledged and navigated. However, it remains a crucial tool in enhancing women’s presence in the decision-making process across the region. To maximize the impact of quotas, efforts should be concentrated not only on policy implementation but also on changing societal attitudes and norms to ensure sustained progress in women’s political participation. The success of gender quotas hinges on their effective implementation, which requires a multi-faceted approach that addresses both structural and cultural barriers.
 Women’s Rights and “State Feminism” in the Arab World. Rola El-Husseini, Jun 16, 2023. https://arabcenterdc.org/resource/womens-rights-and-state-feminism-in-the-arab-world/
 The strategic use of Gender Quotas in the Arab World, Bozena Chrisina Welbourne, Hybl research Fellow, University of Colorado.
 List Proportional Representation
 Party Block Vote
 Two round system
 Single non-transferable vote
 Regional Avareges database IPU, July 2023 https://data.ipu.org/women-averages?month=7&year=2023
 Sabbagh, A. 2007. “Overview of Women’s Political Representation in the Arab Region: Opportunities and Challenges,” in The Arab Quota Report: Selected Case Studies. Quota Report Series. International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA): Cairo.
 Political Party Quotas refers to measures wherein political parties are required to include a certain percentage of women as candidates in their electoral lists. Legal Candidate Quotas entail legal mandates that specify a minimum proportion of women candidates who must be included in the overall list of individuals contesting elections. Reserved Seats involve designating a specific number or proportion of legislative seats exclusively for women.
 “Women in Politics: 2023,” Inter-Parliamentary Union, 2023,
 Quota systems to empower women in the Arab world. Mohammas Shoeb. https://www.iknowpolitics.org/en/news/world-news/quota-system-empower-women-arab-world