Monday, February 28, 2011

A Matter of Opportunity and Access … ?

Would corruption ever become a thing of museums?
Quite unlikely ...

I believed and though somewhat cynical now, still tend to believe that corruption and women have some distance between them. Women’s rights advocates have often argued that women are trained to be carers and givers and therefore more likely to bring these characteristics to the governance and political systems. Experiences from Panchayati Raj (the local governance system) in India also proved that women have a higher sense of responsibility and care about the community well-being more than their male counterparts. Several case-studies also exist to show that women are less self-oriented and more likely to put community interests before their personal interests. 

My experiences involving women in decision-making positions, however, tell me not to hold binary opinion about women and men vis-à-vis corruption. While it is true that I have found more women than men willing to stick to ethical conduct, which is especially critical for transparent and fair decision-making, women and ethical behaviour are not synonymous. The assumption is that a governance system with gender equality and leadership of women will lead to a reduction in corruption, in my opinion, is farfetched. Whether rural or urban, or lower, middle or upper class, given the opportunity and similar sort of support network, women – not all as not all men – demonstrate similar tendencies and practice of corruption. Corruption among men is more visible, perhaps because they are in majority in most of the institutions, and because they have greater access to decision-making opportunities as well as decision-making networks. Men are also more active in the social networks and at the informal decision-making venues, which are largely male dominant. Some of the women, who I know as having opportunities and access to networks that tolerate or promote corruption, are no different.

Individual confidence, too, I feel, is a factor that influences gender differential in corruption. Women and men are brought up differently. Even when they are taught the same or similar public morality, the social or family’s tolerance of digression is gendered. That is, societies and families are more tolerant of corrupt men than corrupt women. This guides the girl-child/women’s level of confidence with regard to being a wrong-doer. I believe that with equalization of responses towards corrupt women or men, there’s likely to be equalization of dishonest or opportunistic behaviour.

Yet another factor is that women, by virtue of being the sex that gives birth, have unique needs and responsibilities. This reality makes them prioritize certain collective needs, like health services, education, water and sanitation, safety and security, community recreation, etc. When women get into positions where they can make a decision on the public spending or can influence the decision-making, they tend to prioritize services or actions which have a positive impact on social services and poverty alleviation. This minimizes spending on schemes/projects created, by and large, with an eye to embezzle public funds.

Most women do not have an easy career compared to their male counter-parts. In a male dominant organization, often they have to work much harder to be at the same level as men and often at a lower remuneration. Women, therefore, are more likely to be careful about their conduct no matter what their attitudes are.

In view of the above, it can be said that affirmative action policies to promote gender equality and to increase women’s representation and decision-making in politics, governance, economy and so on, in the short run, are likely to reduce corruption. It would be unwise to argue for affirmative action designed to increase the role and participation of women, and for gender equality on grounds of public morality and individual integrity. More women than men are mindful of their public behaviour practice today but to rely on innate goodness of women will be equal to setting ourselves to fail. The arguments and struggle for increased representation and enhanced participation of women should be made from a rights and equality perspective. It will be wise to strengthen transparency in public/institutional decision-making, and accountability and oversight mechanisms with a belief that increased equality in opportunities, confidence, gender role changes, and access to vested interest networks, women are as likely to be corrupt as men.

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