Roadside betel nut stalls. Sago palm kitchens. Social media. ATM queues. You can find someone ready to discuss corruption in most places across Solomon Islands. The conversations show that people are aware of the costs and impacts of corruption — from unfair access to healthcare and education to misuse of public monies.
But what are Solomon Islanders saying when they discuss corruption?
Turns out, it depends on where they are.
Selwyn, a grantee of the United Nations Development Programme’s Transparency and Accountability for the People of Solomon Islands (TAP) project, works in rural Makira communities. He talks about missing boats, unfinished roads and lumber redirected from public buildings to private houses as the most blatant examples of corruption there.
Talk to the WEKAP youth group, another TAP champion, and you’ll hear about absenteeism of government officials, lack of supplies in schools and political vote-buying as top corruption challenges in their region of Malaita.
But is corruption also different depending on who you are?
The Solomon Islands Deaf Association produced a video protesting against corruption’s disproportionate impact on people with disabilities. After working for many years with Solomon Islands’ Ministry of Women, Youth, Children and Family Affairs, I took a different angle and looked at corruption and women through the TAP project.
So how does corruption affect women in Solomon Islands?
Frankly, we don’t know.
There is no available evidence anywhere in the world that can tell us whether women are more or less corrupt than men. If anything, there are not enough women in leadership positions for us to study how they stack up.
That said, gendered roles and social norms shape our interactions and behaviors. And does that affect how women experience corrupt practices in Solomon Islands?
There is remarkably little data on these questions, but research on corollary issues can give us a hint:
- Voting is a community affair in Solomon Islands. Corruption impacts limitations on women to access funds and campaign themselves, for instance. It also influences how community decision-makers, usually men, decide whom to support;
- Nepotism is one of the key challenges linked to corruption according to the communities working with the TAP project. No data is available in Solomon Islands, but globally, less transparent and corrupt processes have been shown to benefit men more than women;
- Women are more likely than men to access services on behalf of the family. This means several things in Solomon Islands: for rural women, a dependence on the local political representative to provide welfare support since very few services are available outside of urban centers. The lack of services (which disproportionately affects women) can also be linked to corruption as a result of funds diverted or used unfairly;
- Women who can access services, on the other hand, more often have to pay “speed money” or bribes as they take their children to the hospital and school. Women are also more likely to be asked for sexual favors instead of bribes, further reinforcing their vulnerability;
- Security is a fundamental challenge for women in Solomon Islands, where the rate of gender-based violence is among the highest in the world. Anecdotal evidence shows that police can be hired to provide private security to logging companies in the country. That means women willing to report abuses by loggers cannot trust the local police to handle the case.
How does the TAP project plan to address this specific impact of corruption?
- By always prioritizing issues that have a disproportionate impact on women. When selecting and planning awareness campaigns and sector priorities for our intervention, one of the criteria will include the gendered impact of corruption and our capacity to reduce disproportionate burden on select groups. We’ll ensure that the awareness campaign of the corruption risk assessment highlights who is suffering most from corruption in the sectors we focus on.
- By talking to people and empowering them to be anti-corruption champions: men, women, youth, rural, urban, persons with disabilities. Every group has their own language, priorities and way of doing things. Just as we’re working with youth groups to take on the corruption challenges that matter most to them, women’s groups should also be given tools to fight corruption their way.
- By seeking more information and data about gender and corruption because “we don’t know” is an overused excuse. We will continue to document the specific impact of corruption on women and how we can make a difference for women in Solomon Islands through more transparency, integrity and accountability.