Chris Blattman

Did affirmative action work for Indian women?

India’s electoral affirmative action program, which assigns a random subset of districts to elect only female or low caste candidates, has been fodder for empirical researchers. The randomness, while rooted in principles of fairness, it also provides social experiments on a grand scale.

Raghabendra Chattopadhyay and Esther Duflo used it to show that female leaders invest in different types of public goods, like drinking water, that reduce work for women. They link up with Lori Beaman, Rohini Pande and Petia Topalova to show that exposure to women leaders doesn’t affect most people’s preference for male leaders, but it does reduce prejudicial attitudes towards women as leaders. That is, taste discrimination stays, but statistical discrimination goes down.

Today Rikhil Bhavnani is presenting a new paper here at Yale that looks at what happens when quotas randomly end. The answer? Constituencies previously reserved for women are five times as likely to elect a woman for office than ones that were never reserved for women.

Declining statistical discrimination might might be one reason that reservation effects persist. But Bhavnani argues that the main channel is a sort of incumbency and experience effect:  reservations introduce a cohort of women into politics who are able to hold onto party tickets.

This is good news, but does this mean that quotas only have a temporary effect?

8 Responses

  1. Affirmative action , precisely is a policy designed (aim) to rectify ( redress) past discrimination against women and other minority groups through measures to improve their economic opportunities and in addition eliminate all forms of prejudice in their participation in the political and public life in their countries’ affairs. Thus Women should have had the same rights to participate in their countries’ political affairs. Still that has not been a proven cases at the exception of Rwanda where 30% gender quota have been mandated by the 2003 constitution. Actually Rwanda is the only country where women are in majority in the Legislative Assembly In the case of India; I think a mandate on gender quota would be the best solution. That would give the voters the possibility to observe the effectiveness of women leaders in office in some subset district. Thus potential voters, after a circle of observation, would be more willing to elect women for higher office.

  2. Considering the fact that affirmative action has been contested in the past, one might argue that it still might be contested in the near future. Although the practice of law in the United States and India rest on the foundation of the English common law; the debate over the issue of affirmative action has been approached differently in both countries. Even though Congress in the United States has adopted legislation during the Reconstruction, right after the civil war, to protect Black; the Thirteen Amendment to the Constitution made slavery illegal; the Fourteen Amendment guarantees equal protection under the law; the Fifteen Amendment forbids racial discrimination in access to voting it was only until March 1961 after President Kennedy issued the executive order 10925 that employers were required to include in their contract that employee will not be discriminate on the basis of their color, race or religion. In India this problem has been tackle in a different manner. Indian has approached the affirmative action in a way to eradicate its enduring effects that women have been suffered for centuries on the form of segregation and humiliation. From this perspective one will argue that it is possible that Affirmative action has worked in India for women.

  3. I think in this case quota solves the problem of multiple equilibrium. A temporary quota allows the country to move from a bad equilibrium when women can not get elected in open seats to a good equilibrium where they can get elected freely.

    1. Once shattered, one hopes the glass ceiling is never rebuilt. Might these results lend empirical weight to the feminist pro-Hillary position?

  4. I would think that the time effect of quotas would interact with party organization and political office structure. India is federal, meaning that opportunities exist for candidates to move onto high offices. Note that Bhavnani’s paper mainly concerns local elections in Mumbai. Indian parties are also highly centralized, meaning that the ability of candidates to stand for these higher offices depends on the electoral calculation of party bosses.

    Saw Bhavnani present at APSA this year; he would be a sterling pick-up for Yale.

  5. Thanks for this post, I was previously unaware of these politicalized gender efforts and I think this experiment raises really interesting questions. While I have mixed feelings on affirmative action, it appears that in this case the effect has been a great improvement in the way women are received in this traditionally male field. I am hard pressed to find a downside to this change in attitude toward women leaders. I second Michael’s question regarding mentorship: is anyone (local women, community organizations, or NGO’s?) pursuing a mentoring program to sustain this movement?

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