Latin America & Caribbean

100 Women 2016: Are Mexican women less corrupt than men?

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Media captionDoling out fines was traditionally an opportunity for police to make a little extra money

Corruption in Mexico's police force has become such an endemic problem, that in Mexico State they have been looking for drastic solutions. So far, they appear to be working.

The officers in Mexico State's Transit Police are dressed smartly in black trousers, orange and black shirts and smart black caps. A pair of white gloves hang from their waistbands, along with a ticket machine ready to dole out fines to motorists on the wrong side of the law.

Most officers have also added a personal touch to their uniform - whether it is beautifully manicured nails with French polish, or smoky eye shadow, they have spared no effort in looking tip-top for their job.

There has been a small revolution at Mexico State's Transit Department. Five years ago, authorities got rid of every man and decided only women should do the job because they are more trustworthy. There are now nearly 400 women in the force.

Image caption There are now exclusively women in the Transit Police for Mexico State

Corruption is a massive problem in Mexico - it costs the country billions of dollars a year and gives Mexico a bad reputation. Paying a bribe or a "mordida" is the equivalent of paying a 14% tax for an average household, according to a report by Transparency International.

In Mexico State, the country's most populous and one of the poorest, it is an even bigger problem than elsewhere.


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Out on patrol with some of the team, Judith Morales Garduno is behind the wheel, and accompanying her is Rosa Baeza Pena. In charge of issuing fines on this shift, Rosa's dazzling pink eye shadow, matching lipstick and nails stand out against her mostly black uniform.

"Some drivers are aggressive and feel uncomfortable with a woman giving them a fine," Judith says. "They're used to being the strong, powerful one - controlling."

But, she says, these are all life experiences and help her grow. The job has taught her to be stronger emotionally. As a mum working long hours and looking after her son, it can be a struggle. But her eight-year-old boy is proud of what his mum does for a living, she says with a huge smile.

Image caption Judith and Roa, ready to go on patrol
Image caption Angel is proud of what his mother Judith does for a living

The first offender of the day is a taxi driver who is not wearing a seatbelt. Rosa hands out a $20 (£16) fine which, if you pay on the spot, is reduced to $6. It may not be his day, but Pascual Monsenor is still pretty positive.

"Things have improved," he says, as he waits to receive his fine. "Man to man, corruption is easier. The treatment you get from women is different."

Women in charge

The director of Transit Police for Mexico State is Rosalba Sanchez Velazquez. She has been in the police for 25 years and was made head of the force in 2011 when the women-only policy was implemented.

"A study was done which showed that a woman is more responsible and knows what happens if she does something bad," she says. "There were lots of complaints about corruption so the governor took the decision to create this unit made up just of women. For every 100 complaints that there used to be, now there's one or two."

Although there is some evidence that women can be good for policing, it is not the whole story, experts say.

"What we have seen with the police is that only three in 10 men pass police vetting the first time, whereas seven out of 10 women pass," says Maria Elena Morera, a public security activist. "So economically, it is better to employ women because you are going to be able to recruit much quicker."

Image caption Women can be less corrupt simply because they are new to a role, some critics say

"Women do seem to be less corrupt," she says. "But it's an issue that is far more complex than the differences between men and women. It's a structural issue whereby we need to change the way institutions do things."

Women can behave in less corrupt ways simply because they are new to a role, says Prof Anne-Marie Goetz. "Women are often very keen to impress and to demonstrate that they perform with integrity," she argues.

"Other formerly excluded social groups do this too; lower caste groups in Indian local government perform better, for example.

"But corruption really does not come down to identity; it is about opportunities and incentives or the opposite - penalties. It is not right to employ women as political cleaners. Women should be included in the workforce for reasons of gender equality and social justice, not because there is some expected efficiency pay-off."

Over time, as the women get more settled into the job, they could become corrupt too. Most people in Mexico agree people pay bribes or receive them because they can. Impunity rates are more than 90% and even when people are caught, nothing happens.

Machismo versus corruption

Mexican culture is very macho - the traditional roles of men and women are much more pronounced here. And some say an initiative like this does not help.

"What I find really problematic about this idea is that you are reinforcing gender stereotypes," says Ximena Andion, the executive director of the Simone de Beauvoir Leadership Institute.

"Because of the roles that women have played in society, mostly as caretakers and in nurturing positions, they tend to think about the social wellbeing of society and I think that is one of the reasons why they probably will be less corrupt," she says. "But I think that comes from their experiences and the roles they've played in life. I don't think it is inherently part of your sex, of being a woman."

Image caption Much of what Transit Police officers do needs empathy and calm

After stopping several drivers for not wearing seatbelts, Judith and Rosa come across a road traffic accident. It is a hit and run involving a motorcycle and a truck.

While Judith moves the traffic on, Rosa puts to use what she calls her caring side to calm the victim. But can we conclude that these stereotypically feminine qualities will help deal with corruption?

"After working on gender and leadership for more than 20 years I was surprised to see how little research there is on the impact women can have on corruption", says Kristin Haffert, from Project Mine the Gap, an organisation that promotes the benefits of a gender inclusive workforce.

"Because of this we've decided to do an impact study on this policy in Mexico State. I'm convinced that women are less corrupt and this may be about a combination of factors but I've seen around the world women bringing a different approach to problems and we also know women are more risk adverse," she says.

Many experts believe women have just had less time to develop corrupt patterns in public institutions. There is still much research to be done to see if women can be a weapon in the fight against corruption.

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