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8 female anti-corruption fighters who inspire us

Transparency Int'l

While corruption affects people across all genders, ages and races, it hits poor and vulnerable groups the hardest, especially women. Gender-specific forms of corruption deepen inequality, hinder women’s empowerment, and are a violation of human rights. This International Women’s Day, we want to highlight the exceptional work of eight women around the world who are setting a positive example, showing that women are not only victims of corruption, but also key players in the struggle against it.

All of these women have taken up the fight, regardless of adverse circumstances, and they stand for a strong message: If you want to create change in the world, take action.

1. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

That’s precisely what Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) did when she decided to run for Congress. The odds were stacked against her, mainly because she relied on small donations rather than corporate money for her campaign: around 62 per cent of the US$2 million she raised came from small individual contributions under US$200. She succeeded, proving that there is a way to get into politics without big corporate donations. As AOC herself put it:

“You can’t really beat big money with more money. You have to beat them with a totally different game.”
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

After being elected to Congress as the youngest woman ever, she soon showed us that “different game”. During an Oversight Committee hearing, she dissected the US political financing system, question by question, exposing how corruption risks and conflicts of interest are ingrained into it. The video went viral instantly.

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2. Claudia Escobar

Growing up in Guatemala, Claudia Escobar learnt early on what it’s like to live in a country marked by corruption and impunity. To make a difference and fight injustice, she became a magistrate at the Court of Appeals. But when she decided to speak up publicly against illegal interferences in the judiciary, her life changed dramatically. Escobar became the lead whistleblower in a case of grand corruption that implicated many high-ranking political officials, including Guatemala’s vice-president and the former president of Congress.


“Of course, I was afraid of the consequences. Immediately after I denounced this wrongdoing, the president, the vice president, and the congressman that I denounced started a campaign to intimidate and discredit me professionally.”
Claudia Escobar

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Following a series of threats, she had to flee to the United States with her family in 2015, and while she had to give up her career in the judiciary, she has not given up her passion for justice: working across various fields from academia to foundations, Escobar continues to promote the importance of an independent judiciary for combating corruption.*

3. Robtel Neajai Pailey

Robtel Neajai Pailey (Image: Kate Lloyd)

Robtel Neajai Pailey is a Liberian academic, activist and author. In the course of her work at universities, in the public sector, with international organisations and the media, she came to realise that in order to weed out corruption in a society, you have to start with educating its youngest members about it.

“Children are refreshingly truthful until we socialise them to be otherwise. I wanted to stop that socialisation process in its tracks by giving children the verbal tools to grapple with the blurred lines between honesty and dishonesty.”
Robtel Neajai Pailey

So Pailey decided to combine her passion for social justice and gift for storytelling to write anti-corruption books for kids. The first one, Gbagba, is being used by schools in Liberia and Ghana, and is currently under review by education boards in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Niger and Rwanda. The sequel, Jaadeh!, was published last month. Find out more about the books, her motivation and her vision for fighting corruption in the future.

4. Khadija Ismayilova

Khadija Ismayilova (Image: OCCRP)

Khadija Ismayilova is an award-winning investigative journalist from Azerbaijan. She is known for her courageous reporting on government corruption.

In 2012, Khadija was personally targeted by the Azerbaijani government for her anti-corruption work. She was blackmailed, smeared and arrested. Khadija continued to denounce kleptocracy and to campaign for human rights even from jail. After her release in 2016, she was given a travel ban but continued to work with other journalists to expose the massive money and reputation laundering scheme operated by the Azerbaijani ruling elite, known as the Azerbaijani Laundromat.

“Bad guys help each other to silence critics and hide stolen wealth. It is time for those who expose them to work together.”
Khadija Ismayilova

She recently found some justice when the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the Azerbaijani government breached her rights by failing to hold anyone accountable for blackmailing and intimidating Khadija for her work.

5. Soledad Jarquín

Soledad Jarquín (Image: Las Noticias Ya)

Soledad Jarquín has dedicated her career as an investigative journalist to reporting on gender issues and corruption. She won the Mexican National Journalism Prize in 2006 for her investigation into various rape cases perpetrated by Mexican military officers.

Shedding light on how corruption affects women’s lives in Mexico has always been her commitment. Last year, she had to experience it herself in the most tragic way. Her daughter, photographer Maria del Sol Cruz, was murdered in summer 2018, alongside Pamela Teran, a politician from Oaxaca state, and Adolfo Guerra, her chauffeur.

“…everything changed once I became a victim of it. I was not only writing about it, I was living it. I had to speak up. My daughter was killed recently, and now I am seeking justice for my own family.”
Soledad Jarquín

Since then, Jarquín has continuously been asking for transparency and justice from Mexican authorities. She started the campaign #JusticiaparaSol to call for action in the case that she says has not been prioritised, and has carried on in spite of threats and attempts to silence her. Last month there was finally some progress, when the lower house of the Mexican Senate urged the attorney general to intervene and fully

6. Ana Garrido Ramos

In 2009, Ana Garrido Ramos delivered a 300-page dossier to a Spanish trade union containing evidence of corrupt practices within the Boadilla Town Hall, her former place of employment. What started out as an investigation on a local level expanded into the largest corruption scandal in Spain’s democratic history.

Later dubbed the “Gürtel case”, it exposed a scheme involving kickbacks for government contracts headed by a Spanish businessman who provided donations and bribes to the then-ruling People’s Party. Garrido Ramos’ claims as a whistleblower and key witness contributed to the downfall of the Mariano Rajoy government in June 2018.

“Citizens cannot sit idly by waiting for the world to change, each of us must be part of that transformation.”
Ana Garrido Ramos.

Due to her role in this case she suffered a virulent campaign of harassment, but Garrido Ramos nonetheless continues to fight for a law to protect whistleblowers in Spain. For her courageous reporting and ongoing campaigning she received the 2018 Anti-Corruption Award.

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7. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

As an economist focusing on development, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is known and respected throughout the world. She put her expertise to use during a 25-year career at the World Bank, where she worked with Transparency International founder Peter Eigen and eventually rose to managing director.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (Image: IACC)

In politics — where she was the first woman to serve as both minister of foreign affairs and minister of finance — and elsewhere, she has dedicated a big part of her life to cleaning up corruption in her home country.

“No one can fight corruption for Nigerians except Nigerians. Everyone has to be committed from the top to the bottom to fight it.”
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

Her fierce campaigning against corruption also made Okonjo-Iweala and her family a target. Opponents have frequently tried to damage her reputation by spreading rumours that cast doubts about her integrity. In 2012, her 83-year-old mother was even kidnapped, likely in retaliation of her daughter’s work against fraudulent fuel subsidy claims in Nigeria. Luckily, she was released after a few days.

Okonjo-Iweala describes this and other episodes in her book Fighting Corruption is Dangerous, published last year. It is a testimony to the struggle of those that fight and report corruption, and a message of hope encouraging them to not give up, just like she never did.

8. All the women at Transparency International

As a global movement, our goal is to end corruption in the world, no matter where or in what form it occurs. We know that the only way to succeed is to involve a broad spectrum of engaged citizens, and that’s what we have been trying to do since our inception 25 years ago.

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Our movement proudly represents the voices of women across the world. Many of them suffer the consequences of corruption every day — but just as many and more stand up and fight back against it.

Tell us your story or support the brave women fighting corruption all around the globe. #WomenAgainstCorruption

*Texts for Claudia Escobar and Soledad Jarquín based on an article by Andrea Arzaba, originally posted on the IACC blog.

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