By Sylvanus Blake, Assistant PRO-ACC
December 9, every year is the International Anti-Corruption (IAC) Day. A Day set aside by the United Nations to commemorate and reflect on the blight of corruption and the conscious positive efforts of member states that have ratified the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC). Founded by the United Nations Office on DRUGS AND CRIME (UNODC) and adopted by the UN General Assembly resolution 58/4 of 31st October 2003 that came into force on 14th December 2005; the UNCAC represents the stoutest affirmation of international response against the scourge of corruption. Sierra Leone is among the 140 member Nations of the UN that signed the UNCAC on the 9th of December 2003. Sierra Leone has also ratified the African Union Convention against Corruption and the ECOWAS Protocol against Corruption; efforts that embody the Continent’s and the Sub-Region’s appreciation of the hazard of corruption and the imperative to deal with it. Each year on the 9th December, Sierra Leone joins the World to observe the International Anti-Corruption (IAC) Day.
This year, as Sierra Leone joins the world in commemorating the IAC Day on the 9th December, I am impelled to zoom in on the significance in the fight against corruption of the main event organized by the ACC to mark this day, viz; The National Women’s Conference on the theme “Women taking Centre Stage in the Fight against Corruption” with a panel discussion on the topic “Maximizing the Role of Women in the Fight against Corruption in Sierra Leone: Opportunities and Challenges.”
Women and the Concept of Corruption
The world over and in Sierra Leone to be specific, women suffer many types of discriminations, including legal, political, economic and socio-cultural forms of partialities. It is therefore not surprising that women, and especially poor women who form the bulk of the African and Sierra Leonean population, are particularly defenseless in the face of the ravaging and unrepentant effects of corruption. Corruption, whether financial, material or sexual, has far-reaching consequences on gender equality, sustainable development and democratic governance. Yet most States and institutions know very little about women’s experience of corruption and their possible roles in tackling it, because it is not recognized as a priority in most Anti-Corruption strategies and research agenda. The Open Government Partnership is making an attempt in this regard to remedy this lack of recognition by demanding for at least 30% of its members “to take meaningful action on gender and inclusion.”
In a well-respected article on “the Role of Women in Fighting Corruption” by Rina Jimenez-David, a notable Philippines Journalist and Columnist for the Philippine Daily Inquirer, who was rewarded the Best Columnist for Excellence in Population Reporting at the Global Media Awards in 2004 published on the 20th January 2013, she painted a vivid picture of women, corruption, its effects on them and their expected roles in ameliorating it. She stated that since the emergence of women as a significant force in politics and governance, being half of the world’s population, and in our Sierra Leonean context accounting for about 54% of our population, two questions have dominated the field of research on women and politics. These are: Are women more or less likely to be corrupt? And how does corruption impact women as a group? Findings by credible global entities have maintained a steady correlation in their findings on the above questions.
A World Bank study in 150 countries in Europe, Africa and Asia reveals that “there is a link between higher representation of women in government and lower levels of corruption.” In another study by Transparency International and covering 60,000 households in more than 60 countries, it was found that “women are less likely than men to pay bribes.”
But even as it would seem that women are less likely than men to engage in corruption whether as bribe-takers or givers, a United Nations Development Fund for Women (Unifem) study finds that “women are more vulnerable to the impact of corruption than men particularly in public service delivery.” For instance, “as those holding primary responsibility for child care, women have greater needs in health, educational, food, shelter, and several other social services and are subjected to sexual extortion in lieu of bribes and face emotional, physical and moral torture in the process.” They are the true victims of corruption.
The role of women, particularly influential and distinguished female leaders, in the fight against corruption was the focus of a session in the 5th International Conference of the Global Organization of Parliamentarians Against Corruption (GoPAC), held in Philippines February 2013. Founded in 2002 after the Global Conference in Ottawa, Canada, which brought together over 170 Parliamentarians and 400 observers, the GoPAC is “envisioned to be an international organization of Parliamentarians dedicated to improving Parliaments as institutions of oversight” and is represented by 35 countries in all regions of the world.
But to return to our original questions, does corruption impact men and women differently? Are women less corrupt than men in fighting corruption? Although there is no definitive proof that women are less corrupt than men, what studies show is that “corruption can be particularly harsh on women.” One reason for this, according to a study of the Democratic Governance Group, is that “corruption particularly harms poor sections of the population, and since women make up majority of the poor they are most likely to be affected more severely.” Women often face social, cultural, political and institutional discrimination, the same study pointed out. “Corruption can easily make it more difficult for women to access public goods and services, on which the existence of their families hinges on critically” the report stated.
And so while our political institutions and systems are still dominated by men, cleaning up politics is as much a mission for women as it is for men. For with corruption, the lives of women and girls would be far worse, more difficult, and more unequal than it already is. Therefore the theme of this year’s National Women’s’ Conference will help commence another unhurried process by the ACC to set the tone right and engineer a national discourse on the crucial and inescapable issue of women and the fight against corruption. It will I am sure conclude in Sierra Leone having a women agenda in the fight against corruption. Their (women’s) potential and aptitudes can be an auxiliary battle tilting factor to help us anchor a definite win in the ongoing fight against corruption.
Yes I am certain that we can if we will.