WASHINGTON, Nov 26 (TrustLaw) – Women are not proven to be less corrupt in public office than men, but having a mix of men and women in decision-making processes improves policies, Helen Clark, head of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), tells TrustLaw.
In a written interview with TrustLaw ahead of its TrustWomen conference next week, the former prime minister of New Zealand discusses how bringing together women’s and men’s different experiences and perspectives can benefit society:
Are women leaders more ethical? If so, why?
There is no specific evidence demonstrating that women in public office are less corrupt or more ethical than their male counterparts. Integrity may be more of a function of opportunity and social constructs, rather than a function of gender. There is a growing body of evidence that corruption operates in specific political and social networks to which women do not usually have access – particularly when women are new to positions of power in political, social or economic institutions. At UNDP, we believe that women bring different life experiences and perspectives to policymaking. It is the combination of these experiences and perspectives of men and of women which brings about the best policies for society overall.
Would more women leaders lessen abuse of power and improve governance?
There has been an ongoing debate about whether a greater number of women in positions of power would lead to less corruption, and this debate is far from being resolved.
One line of thinking postulates that increasing the number of women in the government or public administration may help reduce levels of corruption. There is some emerging evidence that when a significant portion – at least 30 percent – of public office holders are women, gender equality issues are brought to the fore and public deliberations often include anti-corruption agendas.
Others suggest that structural factors in liberal democracies are the reasons why corruption is lower there. A country’s political and governance system, as opposed to policy makers’ gender, appears to be what determines the level of corruption.
It is a widely held view that countries with better overall governance, including transparent systems, political accountability, rule of law, and gender equality, will have less corruption. This is something UNDP strives for, and is why governance forms a large part of our programming.
Or is it simply that women are held to higher standards so cannot risk corrupt behavior?
Women may well be held to higher standards in public office and be made to prove themselves in ways which men in leadership are not. For UNDP, what is important is that both women and men have the right to hold leadership positions. Bringing their combined experiences to decision-making should result in better policy and development outcomes.
While women elected to public office are generally not exclusively focused on women’s issues, a critical mass of women leaders can ensure that those issues are addressed. In Rwanda, which has the highest number of women parliamentarians in the world, the Forum of Rwandan Women Parliamentarians has driven important legislation for women. Women made up more than 30 percent of the Constituent Assembly elected in Nepal in 2008, which moved the following year to create a fund to help rural and poor women access reproductive health services.