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More Women in Government, Less Corruption, More Peace

The following analyses appears in Volume 4, Issue 1 of the Peace Science Digest.

Citation:  DiRienzo, C. E. (2019). The effect of women in government on country-level peace. Global Change, Peace & Security, 31(1), 1-18.

Key Words: gender equality, women parliamentarians, gender, peace, security, corruption

There is strong evidence linking women’s increased participation in government with more peaceful societies. Are there other positive outcomes associated with women’s political participation? This article suggests a multifaceted relationship between the number of women in government (more specifically women parliamentarians), the levels of corruption, and country-level peace. Namely, it examines whether a reduction in levels of corruption is related to increased levels of women’s participation in government and if both have an indirect impact on peace. 

Corruption is considered a form of oppression that can instigate civil unrest and violence. Thus, corruption can be a root cause of country-level violent conflict and can pose a serious challenge for peacebuilding. The role of women in government and peace is explained in a twofold way. First, research suggests that women in government are more concerned with issues that affect overall societal well-being. Second, research suggests that women have better negotiation and conflict resolution skills. As a result, the theoretical assumption is that women are linked to lower levels of corruption due to high ethical standards, trustworthiness, and less opportunism.   

The study was conducted by using three main data sources: 

  • The 2016 Global Peace Index 
  • Transparency International’s 2016 Corruption Perception Index
  • World Bank data on the percentage of national parliament seats held by women

Four models of the relationships between the three main data variables (country peace, corruption, women in government), as well as control variables including other country factors affecting peace (economic development; economic freedom; ethnic, linguistic, and religious diversity), allowed for approximately 150 measurable observations per model.  

The article finds that the greater the percentage of women in government, the higher the level of peacefulness on the Global Peace Index. Additionally, countries with a higher percentage of women in government tend to be less corrupt. Countries with a higher percentage of women in government and lower corruption levels are more peaceful. Moreover, the study provides evidence that the indirect effect of women in government on country-level peace by reducing corruption is statistically greater than the direct one (more women in government equals more peacefulness). With higher levels of women’s participation in government, public corruption is lowered, which can create a better context for building and maintaining peace. 

This research uniquely identifies corruption as a root cause of violence or civil unrest. Understanding women’s participation in government as a pathway to overcome corruption and increase peace presents an important call to action among activists and practitioners alike. Even though the study was based on a statistical analysis, which cannot adequately capture the complexities of the real political world, the implications are hopeful and, if they hold up in further research, not as complex as they might seem—more women in government, less corruption, more peace!  

Contemporary Relevance: 

As noted in our 2018 Peace Science DigestSpecial Issue dedicated to gender and conflict, it is no longer possible to ignore the “work” gender does in politics. Gender is not something apart from the seemingly more crucial concerns of war and peace—something nice to be attended when we have sufficient time and resources—but rather is itself central to understanding the production of violence and the creation of peace. Simply adding women to government is not enough—broader power relations need to be examined. As the author notes, the complexities of violence in today’s world make it “imperative to examine what factors counter violence and how these factors can be employed in efforts to both build and maintain peace.” This research shows how “adding women” is a step that contributes to the transformation of power relations, namely those upheld by corruption. Promoting women’s participation in government is not merely “the right thing to do” in times when gender equality is increasingly mainstreamed. The role of women in peacebuilding now is recognized as a key component for creating a more peaceful future and must be front and center of peacebuilding efforts ranging from locally led peacebuilding to nuclear insecurity.  

Talking Points: 

  • Corruption is a root cause of violence and civil unrest.
  • When there are high levels of women in government, corruption decreases. 
  • When governments are less corrupt and have high levels of women’s participation, they are better able to promote and support peacebuilding.  

Practical Implications: 

Policy-makers should support efforts torecruit more women into government, especially in countries that are considered highly corrupt. These countries are often the ones with significant social conflict. Strategies to increase women in government can include gender quotas, assistance with campaign financing, election training, and capacity building (see “Just the Facts” under Continued Reading). However, it is important to recognize different social and cultural contexts: if considered an outside imposition, efforts to increase female participation in government can be counter-productive. Globally, female candidates report threats of violence against themselves or family members, harassment, or intimidation when running for office. Strategies to support female candidates and confront threats of violence must be advanced in line with efforts to increase women’s participation.    

The International Gender Champions leadership network is a practice-oriented approach bringing together male and female decision-makers to break down gender barriers. The gender champions model is based on specific, measurable, achievable, and realistic commitments (600!) ranging from equal representation on panel discussions to work-family life balance. These commitments lay the groundwork for increasing women’s participation in government. Even those practitioners who are not part of the Gender Champions network can integrate and advocate for some of the many strong commitments found there (see: https://www.genderchampions.com). 

Continued Reading: 

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