By M. Emilia Berazategui*
In a world in which only six countries give women and men equal employment rights, where it will take 108 years to close the gender pay gap, and 202 years will be needed to bring about parity in the workplace, should we be surprised that corruption affects women disproportionately?
While corruption and gender have become increasingly prominent on the global agenda, and it is increasingly recognised that anti-corruption measures are central to reducing the gender gap, the pace of change has so far been glacial. Urgent action is needed but is sorely lacking.
Corruption disproportionately affects women
While many forms of corruption affect both women and men, corruption disproportionately affects vulnerable populations and hits the poor the hardest, especially women, who represent a higher share of the world’s poor.
In their traditional role as caregivers in many parts of the world, women experience corruption in their daily lives – from interactions with school officials to health care providers. Corruption presents a barrier for women to gain full access to their civic, social and economic rights.
Economically, gendered corruption has an impact on both the global and local level. To reduce and redistribute women’s unpaid or underpaid work and care, we need more investment in infrastructure, including schools, water, sanitation and energy.
In some parts of the world, women and girls spend significant time each day retrieving clean water to drink, collecting firewood for cooking or doing a host of other necessary household tasks. These responsibilities often prevent girls from going to school and women from finding paid jobs.
Yet, if the costs of running water or electricity were shared across communities, government and the private sector, women and girls would not bear the sole burden of these responsibilities and could use the time for paid work or school. The impact upon millions of individuals and entire communities would be extraordinary.
Resources lost to corruption
Vast amounts of money that could be used for investments in infrastructure are being lost to corruption, mismanagement and inefficiency. By some estimates, close to 6 trillion dollars could be lost annually to corruption by the year 2030.
It is an astronomical figure, so huge that it is hard to even imagine ever being able to manage the scale of the problem. But this money represents badly-needed public services like education and health, infrastructure development like roads and sanitation, and could help reduce unpaid work and care done by women. Investing in women would have a dramatic effect: closing gender gaps will actually lead to an increase in global GDP.
Global leaders take a stand
Recently, more than 30 female world leaders signed an open letter urging policymakers, civil society organisations and private businesses to fight back against the erosion of women’s rights. This is especially true in countries where populism has led to the rise of “macho-type strongman” leaders who are pushing back against gender equality.
As highlighted in Transparency International’s latest Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), public sector corruption can contribute to a backsliding of democracy. Many democratic institutions and norms are currently under threat – often from leaders with authoritarian or populist tendencies. In fact, some populist leaders around the world have capitalised on a growing anti-establishment sentiment to push through reforms which undermine both democratic institutions and anti-corruption mechanisms.
From words to actions
To achieve gender equality, national governments need to design and implement public policies with a gender perspective. These policies should be made in partnership with civil society, the private sector, trade unions and other stakeholders, and should include common anti-corruption components.
The international community is also taking a closer look at gender and corruption. Last year, the B20, C20 and W20 agreed on a joint statement calling on G20 leaders to focus on gender in anti-corruption (request that was included in the 2019-2021 G20 Anti-Corruption Action Plan). The 2018 Summit of the Americas also adopted concrete commitments around gender and corruption.
Commitments are a valuable starting point, but without real action, they are simply empty promises. Here are some ideas countries could use to tackle gender and corruption, including:
Collect, analyse and disseminate gender desegregated data. Timely access to sufficient, accurate and up-to-date information is essential in order to design, implement and monitor effective public policies, and to better integrate gender into anti-corruption policies.
Recognise and address specific gendered forms of corruption. Sexual extortion (sextortion), a form of corruption where sex is the currency of the bribe, is only one form of corruption that disproportionately affects women. Other forms of abusive behaviour are not always recognised as corruption and are less likely to be reported due to a culture of shaming and victim blaming. Countries should ensure their judicial systems have the necessary tools and awareness to address sextortion cases.
Support women’s participation in public and political life. It is a basic human right, yet women have fewer opportunities to participate in public life and largely rely on policies designed by men to address their specific needs. Adopting gender quotas, applying capacity building and institutional support and reducing women’s unpaid and underpaid work are ways to improve women’s participation in public and political life.
Include women in anti-corruption decision-making. To ensure fairer access to political rights, women have to be part of the formulation, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of anti-corruption policies.
Empower women. Women are less likely to report abuse, as they are often unaware of their rights and entitlements, which makes them easier targets for corruption. Governments, international organisations, businesses and civil society organisations can and should play a key role to help ensure women have full knowledge of their rights through campaigns and information on gendered forms of corruption.
Gender sensitive reporting mechanisms. Safe, accountable, accessible and, most importantly, gender sensitive mechanisms should be created to report corruption. These mechanisms should take into account cultural context and gender issues that might hinder reporting.
Use existing platforms. The Open Government Partnership’s Feminist Open Government Initiative, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) are examples of existing platforms that governments can use to adopt more gender-focused commitments.
Anti-corruption efforts are critical to achieving gender equality. However, these efforts will continue to fail if half of the world’s population are excluded from the decision-making process and the specific forms of corruption that most affect women are not taken into account.
Speeches have been made, commitments have been adopted and platforms are in place. We know what we need to do and we know how to do it. The only question that remains is: when are we going to see some progress?