Women as anti-corruption weapons

Not long ago, a short article I wrote for the Christian Science Monitor, about Rwanda’s majority female parliament, prompted a wee spat in this blog’s comment section, where various professional approaches to what counts as data (slash truth) were batted about. What got people rile up was this post, about the stereotype (sexism?) that women holding public office are less corrupt(ible) than men.

I’m on the losing end of a data battle, working as a journalist does in anecdote and contextualizing that anecdote with the research (and quotations, which are variations on anecdote, supported or not) of others. So while I’m losing by privileging individual voices, let me throw another one into the mix.

Sarah Ongole wrote recently in Uganda’s New Vision that women can “fight corruption” even without elected guardian angels of the public coffers. Right off the bat, she disassociates herself from what I called the neo-Victorian assumption that women are more virtuous than men. “As a woman, I believe that women can play a big role in the battle against corruption, not that they themselves are corruption free,” she writes. She continues:

“Women can start to question the source of money their husbands, brothers or fathers have, especially if it can not easily be explained. In most cases, the women know that the source of their husband’s money is not right, but keep quiet because the money brings them comfort.”

Casting corruption as a violation of the private morality of a marriage, rather than the public virtues of the national-international complex, seems to me an idea worth trying. (And if you know where it’s already being tested, by all means, let us know.)

Assuming those guys’ll listen to their wives, of course.



  • Tom Minney says:

    I would say the gender is irrelevant, after all there has been speculation on some presidents ready to retire but their (younger) spouses had not finished shopping yet and are identified as the powers behind terrible abuses. It’s up to all citizens of both sexes, not just in Africa, to stand up and be counted in their countries, but the institutions for this maybe work better outside Africa.

    • Jina Moore says:

      Yes, indeed, shopping always seems to come up in this conversation… I like Sarah’s point precisely because it sidesteps institutions and brings the matter into the home. That could be pretty compelling here.

      • Tom Minney says:

        Point well taken re “shopping”, apology. Bringing corruption busting into the home is a really interesting concept, but I wonder how would one motivate people? When the surrounding situation is tough (unstable, unfair and/or not enough resources to provide what the family needs) even the most rural and uneducated seem to become remarkably economically rational. What would be the gain in turning away extra cash unless there was at least a threat of bad consequences to counter the benefits?

        • Jina Moore says:

          I’m totally with you there, Tom. Women should call out their husbands for bringing them a nice piece of jewelry ‘cuz…? And if he forgoes the jewelry to pay the kids’ school fees, even less an incentive to speak out. But peer pressure can be a remarkable thing, especially between women. Based on my conversations with women’s rights activists in the region — not a social group I know well, but one I occasionally have reason to seek out — I find a surprising alliance, agreement to action, and a bond over shared values that motivates that action. So if those women start talking the talk, so to speak, they could have influence. Probably slow, and surely unmeasured, but influence none the less. Would be my guess.

  • JScarantino says:

    This is a great post Jina. I especially like that you are re-framing the debate and bringing it back to the home. I would be really curious to see an academic study on the effects of public participation of women on equality/participation within the home and whether or not there is correlation. Keep up the great posts.

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