Defining Women’s Representation: Debates around Gender Quotas in India and France

Open Access Journal | ISSN: 2183-2463

Article | Open Access

Defining Women’s Representation: Debates around Gender Quotas in India and France


  • Virginie Dutoya Center for South Asian Studies, School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences/French National Center for Scientific Research, France
  • Yves Sintomer Centre Marc Bloch, Humboldt University Berlin, Germany / Nuffield College, University of Oxford, UK / Department of Political Science, Paris 8 University, France


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Abstract:  In 1999, after a heated debate on gender parity in political representation, the French constitution was amended to include the principle of “equal representation” of both sexes. This paved the way for the introduction of gender quotas. In the same period, a bill providing reservations for women at the national level provoked a political crisis in India. The objective of this article is to compare both debates, looking in particular at the way women’s representation was framed. In France, the main argument against quotas was that republican representation should be unitary and transcend social differences, but at the end of the 1990s, women in mainstream politics were seen as one element of the dual nature of human kind, different from other categories such as class or race. In India, the specific representation of certain groups (Dalits, lower castes, tribal groups) had been the traditional framework for political representation since independence in 1947. But when the bill proposed to extend reservations to women, opponents of the project claimed that women did not constitute a category in themselves, and that sex should be intersected with caste and religion for the attribution of quotas. Looking at parliamentary debates, articles, and tribunes supporting or opposing quotas in both countries, we show that the arguments mobilized reveal different conceptions of the political representation of gender difference, which are partly transversal and partly specific to each country.

Keywords:  France; gender difference; India; parity; political representation; universalism; women quotas

Published:   24 September 2019


DOI: https://doi.org/10.17645/pag.v7i3.2130


© Virginie Dutoya, Yves Sintomer. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.