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Gendered quotas have been one of the preferred instruments for promoting women’s participation and empowerment in public decision-making positions. This study analyzes Colombia’s constitutional validation of gender quotas. It examines how ideas of merit were articulated in favor and against the enactment of gender quotas. In doing so, it argues that the centrality of merit in the constitutional debate on gender quotas is fundamentally flawed, for it ignores the subjective nature of merit, limiting the type of experiences and potential that matter in democratic representation. From this perspective, the primary idea that men and women need to show that they ‘deserve’ to occupy representative positions undermines feminist critique on representation. In this sense, the article contributes to the debate on women’s global leadership by revealing the risks of merit-driven arguments for advancing women’s democratic representation.

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