On the heels of celebrating International Women's Day, I am urging Jamaica's major political parties to increase female participation in politics as a means of reducing political corruption.
I am also encouraging legislators to work with partners such as the United Nations, the Inter-Parliamentary Union, non-governmental organisations, and academic institutions to conduct further research into the effect of gender balance in politics and efforts to fight corruption.
The status of women has come a long way since the first International Women's Day in the early 1900s, but their participation in the political sphere is still far too low in most countries across the world. Of the 63 positions in the Lower House of the Jamaican Parliament, only eight are occupied by females, with the ruling People's National Party boasting five out of 42, and the JLP three out of 21.
Of note, it is well documented that the strongest fight against corruption is one that includes and embraces the female perspective as a critical part of strengthening parliamentary oversight and parliamentary democracy.
The connection between gender and corruption is a surprisingly recent issue in anti-corruption scholarship. The first wave of research into the gendered dimensions of corruption focused on whether women are more or less corruptible than men, and whether the promotion of women in public life can be an effective anti-corruption strategy.
A second line of enquiry examined the impact of corruption on women as a group, building on the growing evidence that corruption has a disproportionate impact on vulnerable groups in society. Both of these strands of research have already generated a wealth of policy-relevant insights that advance our understanding of the interplay between corruption and gender.
Several early, mainly econometric contributions to this discussion claimed that there is indeed a link between higher representation of women in government and lower levels of corruption. An influential study of 150 countries in Europe, Africa and Asia by the World Bank, for example, came to the conclusion that women are more trustworthy and less prone to corruption, a finding later corroborated by additional research from the World Bank.
GOPAC (the Global Organisation of Parliamentarians Against Corruption) has done extensive research in the area. The research is based on a 10-year analysis of trends in the proportion of women elected to national parliaments correlated to trends in the levels of national corruption. GOPAC's findings overturned long-held assumptions about the different susceptibilities of male and female politicians to engage in corrupt activities. Specifically, GOPAC found that an increase in the number of women in Parliament will tend to reduce corruption if the country in question has reasonably robust systems to uphold democracy and to enforce anti-corruption laws. However, in the absence of such systems, the gender blend of Parliament is unlikely to have any impact on the levels of national corruption.
To reduce corruption, countries should recruit greater female participation in politics in tandem with taking steps to increase institutional political transparency, to strengthen parliamentary oversight, and to enforce strong penalties for corruption.
The case of Rwanda is a good example of increased female representation and decreased incidence of corruption, as reported by Transparency International and on the Corruption Perception Index. Corruption robs the country of valuable resources and thus strangulates its development.
Let us, as a country, seek to facilitate greater equality for our females to play their role in the process of governance. If we are to look at it critically, about 52 per cent of the electors in Jamaica are female, and yet only eight of 63 are part of the Lower House.
An active effort must be made to increase this number, and I am not talking about simply offering females as token candidates in seats where it is well known that they won't win, as it is considered safe for the incumbent or the party of the incumbent.
In my own constituency, the majority of my workers in the political process are female, and believe me when I say that they have proven to be quite efficient. Of the four divisions, we have recently ensured that at least one is represented by a female, and we hope to see this number increase going forward as my views are not dissimilar to Margaret Thatcher in stating, "If you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman."
I am also of the opinion that the standard of the representation in the Parliament will greatly improve with increased female participation. If one is to observe what obtains currently, it would be obvious that the current batch of females are rarely the reason for the House to descend into raucous crosstalk and rude interruptions.
Our beloved prime minister, Portia Simpson Miller, is a stellar model of exemplary parliamentary conduct as she is always appropriately attired and maintains a high level of decorum.
Kudos are in order for the Jamaican women who have held their families together. I wish for them more amazing Women's Days ahead, and I know they will continue to nurture this wonderful nation to prosperity.
Jamaica's eight current female MPs
Olivia 'Babsy' Grange
Portia Simpson Miller