The gender dimensions of corruption have typically been approached from the point of view of whether women are less corrupt than men and whether women are disproportionately affected by corruption. While the concept of women inherently possessing a higher level of integrity has been challenged, studies have confirmed that women do indeed bear significant negative consequences from corruption, at least in fragile states and weak institutional settings. In an article published on Transparency International's Anti-Corruption Research Network, Farzana Nawaz discusses these issues, the highlights of which I will cover in this blog.
Studies have shown that there is indeed a link between higher representation of women in public institutions and lower levels of corruption. But this correlation could stem from ‘fairer systems’ and democratic institutions that promote gender equality and tender more effective systems for checks on corruption. Gender roles can also be a factor in women’s lesser involvement in corruption. Women typically have greater responsibility for child care and this can make them risk-averse and thereby more reluctant to engage in corrupt activities. Women’s limited participation in the public sphere also makes them more likely to be excluded from networks that propagate corrupt activities.
Studies have found that corruption has a profound impact on women’s access to resources, particularly public services. As primary caretakers for families, women have greater need for essential services such as health, education, water and sanitation. As a vulnerable group globally, women are less likely to be aware of their entitlement. Generally speaking, their income level is also lower and they lack influence to seek alternatives to bribes. Often, these impediments result in women receiving poor quality services or rather simply being denied from accessing essential services. For instance, in Bangalore, India, one of every two women in maternity hospitals had to pay extra money for a physician to be present at the birth of their child. After childbirth, the research found that a staggering 70% of patients were asked to pay to see their own babies. In another case, 22 percent of female secondary school students in Bangladesh were found paying fee to register for a stipend program for which they were entitled to enroll for free.
When women are compelled to bribe, it generally takes the form of sexual favors. According to Ms. Nawaz, some of the most serious evidence of sexual extortion for access to services can be found in cases of sexual abuse in schools. For example, a survey in Botswana revealed that, of the girls interviewed, 67 percent had been subjected to sexual harassment by teachers and 10 percent had consented to sex for fear of reprisals. When the act results in pregnancy, the impact of corruption on women takes on yet another dimension, since not only are they required to pay “bribes’ in the form of sex but they also run the risk of being expelled from school, thus being deprived of valuable education.
Farzana Newaz, in her report, recommends that policy interventions to combat systemic corruption on women should pay closer attention to the socio-economic and cultural norms that shape how women live their lives as well as the institutional barriers they face. Likewise, corruption should be acknowledged as a serious impediment in addressing/achieving gender equity and women’s participation in governance, and since sexual extortion is a specific form of corruption that affects women in widely disproportionate numbers, this should be incorporated in the analysis and measurement of corruption.
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