Transparency International’s annual ranking of corruption around the globe hit the news on November 17. It was not a happy occasion in Mexico. America’s southern neighbor landed at 89 out of a total 180 governments measured this year (17 spots lower than in 2008), tied with such nations as Malawi, Moldova, and Rwanda.
This places Mexico well below many of its peers; among Latin American nations, ten governments were ranked cleaner than Mexico’s (including Guatemala’s, where the president has been implicated in the murder of a political enemy and the United Nations recently warned of a possible state capture at the federal level by drug gangs). Among the BRIC nations, the group of emerging economic giants with whom Mexico perennially aspires to be included, only Russia wound up worse than 89th place.
The ranking occasioned a long round finger-pointing, navel-gazing, hand-wringing, and politician-blaming, with the 17-slot drop bringing the rhetorical knives out from Mexico’s pundit class. One editorial from the influential daily El Universal said that all politicians were complicit, either as spectators are participants, in Mexico’s climate of corruption. Martín Moreno of Excélsior captured the nation’s prevailing spirit when he called Mexico’s political class a “bunch of thieves”, and said that he would need “an encyclopedia to name all the people that are an emblem of national corruption.”
Such frustration was warranted. More worrying than the ranking itself and the unsavory company among whom Mexico finds itself is the fact that, almost a full decade after the democratic transition, corruption appears to be getting worse. The ranking touched a nerve in large part because it strikes at the modern dilemma for Mexican voters: there is a bee’s nest of problems, and no one credible to solve them. And if democracy doesn’t work for the nation’s stickiest problems, Mexicans ask, what then?
But corruption is not Mexico’s only challenge, as another recent ranking demonstrates. The Global Gender Gap Index, published about a week before the Transparency International list, ranked Mexico 99th among 134 nations measured. This placed it a couple of spots ahead of Kuwait, right behind Kenya and Zimbabwe. Only one Latin American nation, Guatemala, showed a more pronounced gap than Mexico. More specifically, Mexico ranked 65th in political empowerment for women, 90th for educational attainment, and 114th for economic opportunity. (On the plus side, it tied for first place with 40 other nations on health equality.) In other words, as bad as Mexico is in terms of corruption, it has a far bigger problem with gender equality.
Unfortunately, the outrage that flooded forth following the corruption ranking was invisible in response to the gender gap grade. In some ways this is understandable; the corruption index encourages –begs, even– Mexicans to engage in their favorite sport this side of football: bashing public officials. In contrast, one finds no clear villain when seeking explanations for the gender discrepancies. Who is to blame for the lack of female economic participation in Mexico? Banks, politicians, educators, parents, the patriarchal scope of history of both the nation specifically and western civilization in general–each have played a role. Since everyone shares a little bit of the responsibility, no single scapegoat sticks out.
Ultimately, finding someone to blame is beside the point. What is needed is an honest recognition of how harmful the status quo is. The shame of the gender gap goes beyond its unfairness to Mexican women and girls (although that of course is a perfectly suitable reason for outrage). All of Mexico stands to benefit if the nation becomes less like Kenya and more like Iceland. With half the population struggling to reach its potential, it’s impossible for Mexico as a whole to fulfill its promise.
Some signs of potential improvement are visible: last week, Labor Secretary Javier Lozano called for a labor reform that eases the entry of women into the labor market. He never mentioned the Gender Gap Index as a motivating factor, but such a reform would go a long way to improving Mexico’s ranking in the future.
Of course, there’s a lot of distance between the off-hand comments of a cabinet secretary and a new law. If Lozano’s call for reform goes nowhere and in 2010 the Gender Gap Index remains a national eyesore, let’s hope Mexico has a little more leftover frustration than it did this year.