DEVELOPING COUNTRIES need to empower women more if they are to effectively fight graft and corruption and uphold the principles of accountability and transparency in government.
This was the consensus among participants of the United Nations Development Programme forum on Women for Integrity in Governance at the New World Hotel. The forum was also part of the Integrity Caravan program of the Office of the Ombudsman.
UNDP Undersecretary General and Associate Administrator Rebeca Grynspan said that while there is no formal study on whether women really make for more effective and honest leaders, what is clear is that women are the ones who often bear the brunt of corruption and inefficiency of governments.
This is because women are often the ones who balance budgets, do the marketing, and effectively run households. As such, women are the ones who are best motivated to demand cleaner and more effective governments, she said.
“Many treat this as if corruption is gender neutral,” Grynspan said. “All evidence says that it is not.”
“Gender empowerment plays an important role in fighting corruption and strengthening accountability mechanisms in government,” Grynspan added. “It is time to place transparency and accountability and integrity in the post 2015 development agenda.”
The forum was also an occasion to honor three women of integrity in government and in civil society: Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, Commission on Audit Chairperson Grace Pulido Tan, and Social Watch convenor Leonor Briones.
Morales blasted the notion that women are unsuited for leadership roles in the judiciary where she came from, because of the perception that such positions need “an impartial rational mind, not a feminine mine unfit for the adversarial process.”
On the contrary, Morales said that while detachment is ideal, “excessive detachment from issues result in partial understanding”of these issues.
As well, Morales said women in fact have a clear advantage in that they are able to better relate to the points of view of victims and those at a disadvantage in the eyes of the law. “A woman’s personal experience of disadvantage and the relevance of it are crucial qualifications, not disqualifications, for inclusion in the ranks of high legal authorities,” Morales said.
For her part, COA’s Pulido-Tan spoke of the difficulty of going against the culture of patronage and the padrino system in her own agency, and how her experiences as a mother and a housewife helped her face these challenges.
“I thank God that he gave me steely nerves to carry this out,” Pulido-Tan said. “I bring to my job my traditional roles as wife, mother, daughter, and sister in the Philippine context.”
As a woman, Pulido-Tan said she has experienced life as a “nurturer, a caregiver, a street psychologist, the keeper of the purse, disiplinarian, role model, and efficient household manager.”
Social Watch’s Briones, for her part, cited the saying that “the best man in the Philippines is the Filipino woman.”
The reason for this, she said, is that women have had to face more challenges and create more opportunities of their own just to stay at par with men.
For example, Briones said that while government statistics show that women are in fact better educated since there are more women who go to schools and universities than men, “if you look at the structure of government from the mayors, the governors and the congressmen, you will see that women are still a distinct small minority.”
As well, Briones said that women outnumber the men among the ranks of the unemployed, even though it is clear that women are better educated.
“What is the role of women? Women are minorities in the policy-making structure of government,” Briones said. She however expressed satisfaction that women are in positions of leadership in constitutional commissions such as COA and the Office of the Ombudsman.
“If you want to educate a family, you educate the women,” Briones said. “The mothers, the wives, the sisters, the titas and yayas and even the caregivers. They shape the character of the children.”
“If we want more integrity in government, start with the women,” she added.
Briones also took the opportunity to lash out at the continuing existence of lump sum appropriations in the budget, such as the renamed pork barrel funds of Congress and the untouched Special Purpose Funds of the President.
Briones said that public funds are of special interest especially to women, because “we should care where our taxes go if you are going to ask us to share with you (our money.)”
For example, Briones pointed out that the 2013 budget containes P310 billion in Special Purpose Funds for the President’s use; P25 billion in pork barrel for legislators; P12 billion in motor vehicles user charges; P26 billion in Malampaya Funds; P10 billion in revenues from the Philippine Amusements and Gaming Corporation, not counting another P2.6 billion that is directly remitted by the Pagcor to the Office of the President’s Social Fund; and a host of intelligence funds for various government agencies. Briones said that any woman would balk at the idea of all these funds being loosely controlled and disbursed, while “we count nails and paper clips.”