Interesting story recently from Mexico about women being used exclusively as traffic cops. The reason? To fight corruption in the police force, a chronic problem in Mexico. The assumption is that women are less likely to take bribes to forgo issuing traffic citations or to strong-arm motorists into forking over cash instead of being arrested. Ecatepec Police Chief Carlos Ortega Carpinteyro, cited in a story on NPR, says women are much better suited for traffic duty: “When a man is approached by a female cop, even though he is the stronger sex, he calms down and will listen to her…women are more trustworthy and take their oath of office more seriously. They don’t ask for or take bribes.” So far the women traffic cops in the Mexico State don’t have full police authority – they can only issue warnings.
Are women really less corruptible. Tania Lombrozo points out in her blog that the results are mixed. In a recent study from Rice University, researchers found that corruptibility of men versus women depends on the kind of government in place: “We find strong evidence that a gender gap in corruption attitudes and behaviors is present in democracies, but weaker or non-existent in autocracies.” According to the article, this correlates as well with the role of women in politics – in democratic countries having a larger number of women participating in government lessens corruption, but not in autocratic regimes. They provide an interesting explanation of why women are different from men in terms of corruptibility:
Women are more powerfully subject to social norms because systematic discrimination against them makes their position more tenuous. Insomuch that sex discrimination means holding women to a different (higher) standard than men for the same reward, it is riskier for them to flout the formal and informal rules of political culture because transgressions are more likely to invite retaliation. Thus, if a political culture discourages corruption, women will avoid corrupt activities more and profess greater aversion to it (compared to men) because they anticipate suffering more severe consequences than their male counterparts.
Whether the new approach will work for Mexico remains to be seen. Mexico ranks high in the corruption index of Transparency International (105 out of 174 most corrupt). It’s interesting to note that the countries that are listed as the least corrupt are also among those that in the recent World Happiness Report rank as the “happiest”, namely the Scandinavian countries, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Canada.
Miss America 2013
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and is determined by the beholder’s cultural values. Beauty pageants have been in the news lately. The selection of the first Indian-American woman as Miss America is a clear signal of the diversification of US society but as well a demonstration of the wide-spread prejudices that still exist against Americans of color. Racist tweets abounded after news of her selection. The new Miss America, Nina Davuluri, is not the first woman of color to win the crown. There have been seven black Miss Americas, starting with Vanessa Williams 30 years ago. A Hawaii-born Filipina won in 2001. Interestingly, it’s been pointed out that Davuluri would not have been likely to win the Miss India title: her skin is too dark. Bollywood beauties tend to have whiter skin. In fact, Davuluri performed a Bollywood dance in the talent portion of the contest.
Also in the news recently was the winner of the World Muslimah 2013 contest, a Muslim-only beauty pageant in Jakarta, where according to the Guardian, participants were judged not just on their looks but their ability to recite verses from the Qur’an and their philosophy on modern-day Islam. The comment by the winner, Nigerian Obabiyi Aishah Ajibola, after the contest: “We’re just trying to show the world that Islam is beautiful.”
Finally, there’s also the news that the French Senate has voted to ban child beauty contests. Reportedly, the law was prompted by an infamous photo spread in the French Vogue in 2010 of then-10-year-old Thylane Loubry Blondeau in sexy poses and heavy make-up. It seems Honey Boo Boo won’t be moving to France any time soon.
Graphic by the Quebec government showing one example of a banned public dress under a proposed Charter
In the news recently there have been reports on initiatives in various countries to restrict how Muslim women may dress, specifically to ban clothing in public that covers the face. That means outlawing the burqa and the hijab. Most recently, there is a proposed law for Quebec as well as for the Canton of Ticino in Switzerland. Most of the initiatives now and in the past (in France and Belgium, for example) have been made with justifications centered around security (not being able to recognize the identity of someone with her face covered), safety (lack of peripheral vision when driving), or the maintenance of laity (strict separation of church and state, particularly in schools). Xenophobia, particularly towards Muslims, is never mentioned. In some case, parallel movements pretty clearly point in this direction. In Switzerland, for example, a law was passed in 2009 banning the building of minarets, despite the fact that there are very few mosques in the country. The Quebec government’s proposed “Charter of Values,” would prohibit public servants from wearing “overt and conspicuous” religious symbols, thus insuring a “religiously neutral state.” Yet, the province’s minister for democratic institutions, Bernard Drainville, told TIME Magazine “Quebec is not a blank page…Building our future shouldn’t come at the expense of our past, our heritage.” What he meant by that statement is clear: Christianity as part of the Quebequois culture will continue to enjoy privileged status.
The promoter of the initiative in Ticino is quite explicit in his goals, according to the Wall Street Journal:
[The law] is being spearheaded by Giorgio Ghiringhelli, a 61-year-old political activist and former journalist. Although burqas are rarely seen in Ticino, where less than 2% of the roughly 340,000 inhabitants identify as Muslim, Mr. Ghiringhelli said his ban could help curb Islamic extremism before it takes root, and would be “a strong signal for Switzerland and maybe for other countries” to follow suit.
Identifying Muslim dress as an indicator of political fanaticism is an attack on Islam as well as a strike against religious freedom. It’s ironic that we in the West often rail against mistreatment of Christians in Muslim countries, yet don’t see that with such initiatives we are just as guilty of intolerance and blind prejudice.