By Kiely Barnard-Webster
This week, RCN J&D – implementers for the Central Africa Accountable Service Delivery Initiative (CAASDI) – spoke with me about the Are Women Less Corrupt? blog post. Together, the team of two, Longin (Head of Office) and Patricia (Project Manager), possess a rich and deep understanding of the criminal justice sector – as a Burundian ex-judge and practicing lawyer in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) respectively. They are currently working with a network of anti-corruption actors in Lubumbashi, DRC.
During our conversation it was important for me to hear whether, and how, the stories and challenges I reviewed last week are experienced in the Lubumbashi context. Longin and Patricia affirmed that the general arguments seemed to hold relevance to Lubumbashi. However, their eagerness to dig deeper was clear, especially as after more than an hour of conversation, we had only made our way through half the interview questions!
It was quite obvious more still remains to be known.
Yet, they shared their observed experience of how these issues have come to pass in particular ways throughout their years working in Lubumbashi; the team clearly expressed frustration with discrimination and with sextortion’s negative effect on societal gender roles during our conversation – as well as their motivation for change.
Here’s what they said.
(Q) In which ways does it seem women suffer more from corruption, specifically while trying to access public services, in Lubumbashi?
Patricia: Women generally hold much more integrity than men. But, when corruption is a forced act for women [and frequently sexual in nature] they talk about it a lot with one another. And, on the other side, women are under-served compared to men. They are much more reflective than men when it comes to corruption – for example they might ask themselves the question ‘why should I pay’?
Longin: Women aren’t often speedy when acquiescing to corruption, thus public services might reach them slowly or be refused to them outright. Having little income, or limited resources, women might be more tempted to dispute the price of corruption thus – in the meantime – their access to public services might be delayed.
“Having little income, or limited resources, women might be more tempted to dispute the price of corruption thus – in the meantime – their access to public services might be delayed.”
Patricia: Yes, and women think as well of the scandals that corruption might cause for them – these are usually fairly serious, like scandals you see within the political sphere. Women thus ask themselves many more questions when accessing public services. They also think much more frequently about their families and the consequences. When we talk about “consequences” of corruption, it’s usually in reference to consequences for their family or communities (“leurs sociétés”). That does not mean that women are all honest or that honest men don’t exist! Women are just more limited by culture and the perceptions of their communities.
“That does not mean that women are all honest or that honest men don’t exist! Women are just more limited by culture [in Lubumbashi] and the perceptions of their communities.”
Longin: Related to this, women often refuse to prostitute themselves for a service and will then not receive the service; if, through extraordinary circumstances a woman gives in, she might receive the service but regret the decision for the rest of her life.
(Q) In which ways do women face more difficulty accessing political processes, or decision-making positions, because of corruption?
Patricia: This is more anchored in culture. For many, women are meant to stay at home and manage a household – women aren’t often called to public service. And that creates prejudices. If a woman aspires to public office, one would say she’s ‘behaving like a man.’ Generally, within political parties, you see that there are many women but there aren’t many that actually fill positions requiring much responsibility. There are often female candidates, but not many move into decision-making roles or to important departments – there’s never been a single female president for example, or prime minister. It’s cultural.
“Generally, within political parties, you see that there are many women but there aren’t many that actually fill positions requiring much responsibility.”
Women also don’t have the means to engage in corruption – to get themselves on political tickets, for example – because in politics it’s very much about exchanging large sums of money and women, in general, don’t have this. Laws about equal gender representation exist, but don’t really secure enough women. From a legal standpoint, equality is a widely recognized right but there is little done to enforce respect of these laws.
Longin: Also, if women run they may not win because they don’t know how to be corrupt, or might not have the resources or the experience with political corruption to know the best way forward (i.e., they won’t have access to insider circles, access to grand corruption…). There may also be fear about political scandals.
Men have a significant advantage. Women have continued to think that they must stay at home and take care of a household, that politics is reserved for men. This, in my view, has led to a lack of self-esteem – for even though women are interested in this field and have gone through school and studied politics, they are still confronted with a lack of resources or support.
(Q) Have you heard of any unique approaches, from individuals or groups of women in particular, that have worked to stop corruption?
Login: From our work, we might think a network with the aim of fighting against corruption and discrimination through collective action would be one strategy (we have already seen this network forming – with some of our participants convening a small group of judicial actors and CSO’s focusing on gender and corruption). There seems to be merit in better understanding the strategic value of this type of network…
Patricia: Another strategy is that women might also look for allies. Allies that will support their cause. And these allies should also be men – those working in the criminal justice sector, if this is where women are trying to fight corruption. It’s necessary that these be judicial actors as well who are also evading corruption on a daily basis. This strategy is one way to combat corruption.
Longin: It’s also necessary to have allies during childhood, as youth will then feel compelled to pick up the baton and fight discrimination and corruption. In coming years, then, there would already be those willing to take on this fight. It’s with feminist rights movements like these – and advocating for equal gender rights – that the question will begin to be addressed. Women are taking the first steps, but the next will be finding ways to engage male allies and examining how men’s roles play into this movement.
Patricia & Longin: [to us] both women and men are involved in corruption, but to different degrees. Which means that they can be pioneers in the fight against discrimination based on gender, and against corruption; it remains that they adopt strategies to combine efforts with allies and young men in this fight for equality.
I want to thank Patricia and Longin for taking the time to share their experiences. Have you seen similar phenomena in your region? Send us the answers to these questions if you would like to share with the practitioner community reading this blog. Are there other questions you would have wished I asked? Leave your comments below, and we will pass them on to Patricia and Longin.
About this Article
* This discussion does not represent CDA or RCN & J&D’s official opinions. Rather, the opinions expressed are solely those of the persons interviewed. *
Patricia works for RCN Justice & Démocratie. She is a Project Manager in Lubumbashi, currently supporting the efforts of a Network of local anti-corruption actors from the criminal justice sector. She consistently observes the challenges they face in their daily interactions with corruption, and helps the group devise strategies for tackling these challenges.
Longin also works for RCN Justice & Démocratie. He is the Head of Office in Lubumbashi, and works very closely with the Network of local anti-corruption actors to coordinate their efforts and similarly support the group in their fight against corruption.
Photo: Lubumbashi: 1920s Palace of Justice. By Piet Clement – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12139768