/ 9 March 2024

Include women in the fight against corruption

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This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is “Inspire inclusion”, with its goal to encourage others to understand and value women’s involvement. There are numerous benefits that come from the inclusion of women, with equity and empowerment as key components. In anti-corruption efforts, an inclusive society has been found to correlate with a less corrupt society. 

The inclusion of women in anti-corruption efforts is beneficial not only for women, but for everyone. We have little knowledge of corruption from the lens of women, let alone their potential role in curbing it. This is because we have reduced women to only two categories — either as victims or beneficiaries of corruption. We have missed an important category for women as potential agents of change. 

We acknowledge the role of women throughout history in shaping our societies; we often acknowledge that if women are unhappy with the progress of society, society changes, but we are yet to see women rolling up their sleeves against corruption even though the burden of corruption is unequally distributed and the scale tips a little harder on them. This raises the question: are women happy with the progress we have made in the fight against corruption or have they not been given a chance to look for answers to the corruption problem? 

Women are known to be the drivers of change in our societies; they have an ability to get everyone involved and to look for solutions to the problems their societies face. It is shameful that we haven’t fully used this ability when it comes to corruption. Corruption is a relentless pandemic silently killing our dreams, our prosperity, our potential, our progress and when it’s done, it even takes our lives. 

Women can bring different perspectives to anti-corruption efforts to make visible the invisible forms of corruption such as “sexual corruption” or “sextortion”, a widespread form of corruption that we often overlook that disproportionately targets women and girls. This type of corruption becomes much more than tracing bank statements or following brown bags; instead it’s just silence, shame, stigma and a normalisation of a crime we all neglect.

Corruption has always been seen as a men’s problem to solve which often fuels a male centric view of our understanding of corruption, resulting in gender neutral solutions that limit a holistic understanding of the double harm when corruption meets women. The inclusion of women in anti-corruption efforts will force us to reframe our understanding of corruption and to recognise that not all corrupt actions are equal; some come in forms that rob women and girls of their dignity and basic rights. 

The inclusion of women in anti-corruption efforts must be seen as more than just a token of appreciation or a nice to have to achieve gender quotas, but as an important tool that could help to mitigate women’s experiences of corruption. This argument for the inclusion of women in anti-corruption efforts should not be hijacked by the debate of whether women are less corrupt than men. Such inclusion must go beyond the boardroom to reach women where they are, understand their experiences and let those experiences guide our anti-corruption programmes, reporting and responses. 

Recently there has been much debate about how corruption scandals involving women leaders undermine the argument for the inclusion of women as a possible antidote for corruption. What these kinds of debates miss is that advocating for the inclusion of women in anti-corruption efforts does not mean women are an antidote for corruption, but that diversity, which has been found to be what matters most. Diversity disrupts collusive networks that often create a fertile ground for corrupt networks to thrive.  

Including women’s perspectives in anti-corruption efforts will go a long way in contributing to raising awareness on the portions of corruption we have yet to uncover and help us to shape a holistic understanding of corruption. We must advance the participation in anti-corruption efforts by providing a platform that shows women not only as victims but the agents we need for the change we want to see. 

Zakhona Mvelase is the founder and director of the African Women Against Corruption Network.