Women as Policy Makers: Evidence from a Randomized Policy Experiment in India

Women political leaders prioritize public goods that are of concern to women and female citizens are more engaged in civic discussion when women hold public office.


Women continue to hold only a small fraction of political positions around the world. To address the gap in women’s political representation, some countries have instituted gender-based quotas. In India, a 1993 constitutional amendment required states to reserve one-third of all village council chief posts for women. Each election cycle, one-third of villages are randomly selected to reserve their council chief seat for a woman, a process that has successfully increased the number of female village council chiefs. This study evaluates the impact of increased women’s political representation on policy outcomes in India.


Female village chiefs invest more in public goods than do male chiefs, and women villagers are more engaged at village council meetings when there is a female chief.

  • The presence of a female village council chief increased women’s involvement in village affairs in West Bengal. Women in West Bengal villages with a female village council chief were twice as likely to raise requests and concerns to the village council.
  • Female village chiefs responded to female constituents’ concerns, like drinking water, more so than did male village chiefs. Across gender, female constituents’ concerns differed. For example, in West Bengal, women were more concerned with drinking water relative to men, while men were more concerned about education relative to women. For those areas with a female chief, the amount invested in drinking water was higher, while the probability of an informal school being set up was lower. Similarly, while road construction was important to both male and female constituents in both states, road quality may be especially important in Rajasthan for men given that they travel farther for work relative to women. The authors find that road quality is higher in West Bengal, but lower in Rajasthan with a female chief.

In short, female and male leaders not only have measurable differences in policy preferences, but women leaders are associated with female constituents’ civic engagement.


The authors collected data from 265 village councils in Birbhum, West Bengal, and Udaipur, Rajasthan, in India to measure and compare investments in public goods in areas where village council seats were reserved for women and where they were not. Data sources included interviews with village chiefs and villagers, resource map drawing exercises, and minutes of village meetings. The authors collected information on complaints or requests made to village council chiefs in the previous six months to understand how the gender of the chief impacted the participation of local men and women. The authors also used the information on requests and complaints to gauge men and women’s policy preferences.

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