Abstract: The adoption of electoral gender quotas has increased dramatically in the last 20 years, receiving praise for transforming the composition of political bodies worldwide. Gender quotas, however, have also been criticized as an unsuccessful tool in challenging the de facto power of traditional patriarchal elites. The case of Lesotho provides a randomized policy experiment to test for changes in the influence of traditional leaders after quota adoption at the subnational level. Between 2005 and 2011, Lesotho reserved at random 30 percent of all newly formed single‐member local electoral divisions for only female candidates. Using a unique data set by merging the 2008 Afro‐barometer survey with the reservation status of respondents’ villages, I find that having a quota‐mandated female leader significantly reduces the perceived influence of traditional leaders. Further, I find that this treatment effect holds across different demographic groups, suggesting a widespread policy impact.
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