Date of Defense



Political Science

First Advisor

Dr. Suhashni Datta-Sandhu

Second Advisor

Dr. Ashlyn Kuersten

Third Advisor

Dr. James Butterfield


It is a remarkable political feat that Rwanda and South Africa, two young democracies, are some of the highest achievers in the world when it comes to the proportion of women in their national legislatures. At 48.8% and 32.8%, respectively, Rwanda and South Africa rank first and eleventh internationally for this statistic (Global Database of Quotas for Women). Their accomplishment is even more impressive considering the traumatic histories from which these nations have recently emerged. South Africa has undergone decades of division and oppression under the segregated apartheid system, achieving an inclusive government for the first time just over a decade ago. Rwanda has endured repeated periods of violence and constant ethnic tension in the years since its independence, and was decimated by its 1994 genocide. Both nations rose from the ashes ofthese pasts to begin new governments, and accomplished higher levels of gender inclusion within their first decades than many developed democracies have seen in centuries.

Both governments gained these impressive delegations of women with the help of electoral quotas, although there are differences of implementation between the two systems: South Africa's political parties voluntarily fill a percentage of their candidate lists with women, while Rwanda's legislature reserves a number of seats for women. While they have plainly been successful in terms of numbers, it is less clear whether or not these quotas lead to tangible political gains which benefit the overall population of women. Does the increased inclusion of women in the national parliament have a positive effect on policies which affect the female population? Are women's issues given more consideration, or achieving more positive changes? Are these female political leaders effective? These are the questions examined in this paper. I will begin by looking at the history of each of the countries I am considering, and will examine the formation of the current government. I will compare the quota systems employed in each country, and observe the nature of the inclusion of women. I will look for their legislative achievements and failures, and take into account external factors which influence the extent of effectiveness these women can be expected to achieve before judging their success.

Access Setting

Honors Thesis-Campus Only