Research on Open Data and Transparency

Three Thoughts on Gender and Transparency

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Gendered Use: research so far has found that use of access to information laws is highly gendered. Our own research into FOI in the UK found the average requester to be male and middle aged. Users in India of their Right to Information Act were found to be overwhelming male (over 90 %). When transparency laws are sold as a weapon of equality, such gendered use can distort outcomes and undermine their influence. There also appears to be a gender bias in how officials respond, according this experiment in Germany.

Opening Up Politicians: Female politicians face a greater burden of scrutiny and find, in hundreds of ways, that they have less privacy and private space than their male counter-parts. Ironically, research so far also points to female politicians promoting greater openness: this study found that local government bodies with a female mayor were more open than those with a male one.

Opening Up Gendered spaces: Often hidden secret spaces are also highly gendered spaces, whether ‘old boys networks’ of informal meetings or military secrets and national security.  One secretive area is closed party recruitment procedures, which is why seeking data on political candidates is crucial, as the Fawcett Society explains:

Section 106 of the Equality Act requires political parties to report the diversity of their candidates. At the moment, this hasn’t been commenced. There is no collection of data, and no monitoring of party representation at all in terms of disability, ethnicity, gender, etc. That means we can’t have an informed discussion about the number of disabled candidates or black women, for example, put forward in an election, making it very difficult to hold parties to account for their attitudes towards diversity

There have been advances in opening up these gendered spaces. Gender pay data in the UK has had a clear effect of making pay more equal-this research shows 50% of companies have narrowed their pay gap. But such changes also raise the question of if and when publicity itself is enough, and how openness and transparency translates into actual political change.

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