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Gender Quotas and Women's Substantive Representation: Lessons from Argentina
Unformatted Document Text:  14 women‟s rights bills passed since the implementation of the quota law in 1991: The Labor Union Quota in 2002, which applies a 30 percent quota to leadership posts in labor unions 27 ; the Sexual Health Law in 2001, which created a national health program for sexual health education and contraception availability; and the Surgical Contraception Law in 2006, which expanded the 2001 Sexual Health Law by legalizing surgical contraceptive methods and making the procedures (including vasectomies) available in public hospitals. 28 These successes notwithstanding, we argue that three laws constitute neither a dramatic nor wholesale change to policy outcomes in Argentina. The majority of women‟s rights bills actually do not succeed. Between 1989 and 2007, there were 67 bills introduced to apply gender quotas beyond congressional candidacies or to increase the existing quota beyond 30 percent; only the 2002 Labor Union Quota succeeded. Of the 93 bills introduced dealing with reproductive rights, only two succeeded (the Sexual Health Law and the Surgical Contraception Law). Although the Argentine legislative process is such that bill failure is common, the success rates for approving women’s rights bills is lower than average. Of the women‟s rights bills analyzed, the three successes constitute a 1.3 percent success rate between 1999 and 2006. An analysis conducted by an Argentine NGO found much higher overall success rates: from 1999 to 2006, 3.73 percent of all bills introduced in the Chamber of Deputies passed both houses, and 2.15 percent of all bills introduced in the Senate also succeeded (Barón et al. 2007). Women‟s issues bills therefore fail more often in the Senate, and over twice as frequently in both chambers. 29 Given that most women‟s issues bills are introduced by female legislators, the data indicate that women change policy outcomes in women‟s issue areas at rates proportionally below the norm in the Argentine congress. Legislative success is dependent on institutional rules; formal and informal norms can limit female legislators‟ ability to move from bill introduction to bill passage. Formal norms refer to procedures and business practices understood and followed by all legislators. Many interviewees pointed to party discipline as a critical factor reducing the success of women‟s rights initiatives. While not ideologically organized, Argentine parties are known for being highly disciplined (Jones 2002), thus reducing legislators‟ opportunities to build cross-partisan consensus on women‟s rights bills. Interviewees also cited party leaders‟ agenda control and executive dominance as another obstacle, especially for legislators outside of the majority bloc. Women often lack the influence necessary to force a committee or plenary discussion on their women‟s rights initiatives. One senator explained, “it‟s totally up to the committee chair [whether a bill advances], and even if there‟s political will there, someone higher up—the president for example—will send signals to committee chairs about whether a bill should move or not.” 30 Another legislator explained that legislative success is contingent upon a range of factors, including the content of the bill, its author, and whether its main proponent is from the majority or minority party. 31 Ultimately, female-focused legislative initiatives usually die in committees (rather than failing in floor votes); initiatives will not reach the floor without leaders‟ support. Several interviewees further noted that legislative success also requires that the president endorse, or at the very least not oppose, a particular policy direction. Our interviewees‟ remarks are consistent with existing scholarship on the Argentine congress. Mark Jones (2002, 182) notes that party presidents perform important gate-keeping functions: leaders can block their colleagues‟ legislative

Authors: Franceschet, Susan. and Piscopo, Jennifer.
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14
women‟s rights bills passed since the implementation of the quota law in 1991: The Labor Union
Quota in 2002, which applies a 30 percent quota to leadership posts in labor unions
27
; the Sexual
Health Law in 2001, which created a national health program for sexual health education and
contraception availability; and the Surgical Contraception Law in 2006, which expanded the
2001 Sexual Health Law by legalizing surgical contraceptive methods and making the
procedures (including vasectomies) available in public hospitals.
28

These successes notwithstanding, we argue that three laws constitute neither a dramatic nor
wholesale change to policy outcomes in Argentina. The majority of women‟s rights bills actually
do not succeed. Between 1989 and 2007, there were 67 bills introduced to apply gender quotas
beyond congressional candidacies or to increase the existing quota beyond 30 percent; only the
2002 Labor Union Quota succeeded. Of the 93 bills introduced dealing with reproductive
rights, only two succeeded (the Sexual Health Law and the Surgical Contraception Law).
Although the Argentine legislative process is such that bill failure is common, the success rates
for approving women’s rights bills is lower than average. Of the women‟s rights bills analyzed,
the three successes
constitute a 1.3 percent success rate between 1999 and 2006. An analysis
conducted by an Argentine NGO found much higher overall success rates: from 1999 to 2006,
3.73 percent of all bills introduced in the Chamber of Deputies passed both houses, and 2.15
percent of all bills introduced in the Senate also succeeded (Barón et al. 2007). Women‟s issues
bills therefore fail more often in the Senate, and over twice as frequently in both chambers.
29
Given that most women‟s issues bills are introduced by female legislators, the data indicate that
women change policy outcomes in women‟s issue areas at rates proportionally below the norm in
the Argentine congress.

Legislative success is dependent on institutional rules; formal and informal norms can limit
female legislators‟ ability to move from bill introduction to bill passage. Formal norms refer to
procedures and business practices understood and followed by all legislators. Many
interviewees pointed to party discipline as a critical factor reducing the success of women‟s
rights initiatives. While not ideologically organized, Argentine parties are known for being
highly disciplined (Jones 2002), thus reducing legislators‟ opportunities to build cross-partisan
consensus on women‟s rights bills.

Interviewees also cited party leaders‟ agenda control and executive dominance as another
obstacle, especially for legislators outside of the majority bloc. Women often lack the influence
necessary to force a committee or plenary discussion on their women‟s rights initiatives. One
senator explained, “it‟s totally up to the committee chair [whether a bill advances], and even if
there‟s political will there, someone higher up—the president for example—will send signals to
committee chairs about whether a bill should move or not.”
30
Another legislator explained that
legislative success is contingent upon a range of factors, including the content of the bill, its
author, and whether its main proponent is from the majority or minority party.
31
Ultimately,
female-focused legislative initiatives usually die in committees (rather than failing in floor
votes); initiatives will not reach the floor without leaders‟ support. Several interviewees further
noted that legislative success also requires that the president endorse, or at the very least not
oppose, a particular policy direction. Our interviewees‟ remarks are consistent with existing
scholarship on the Argentine congress. Mark Jones (2002, 182) notes that party presidents
perform important gate-keeping functions: leaders can block their colleagues‟ legislative


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