Gender and corruption

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Gender Issues and Corruption

Women's political participation and levels of corruption

In recent years there have been attempts to establish a link between high levels of womens' participation in politics and less corruption resulting from their presence and influence. Key papers on this theme are: A Swamy, S. Knack, Y. Lee and O. Azfar,Gender and Corruption, World Bank, 2000 and D. Dollar, R. Fisman, and R. Gatti,Are Women Really the "Fairer" Sex'?Corruption and Women in Government, World Bank Development Research Group, 1999. These papers have been criticised by several authors.

  • Anne Marie Goetz for instance questions the notion that more women in government results in lower levels of corruption. She argues that these papers fail to acknowledge the ways in which gender relations may limit the opportunities for corruption, particularly when corruption functions through all-male networks and in forums from which women are socially excluded. As workplaces become more feminized and women take the top leadership jobs it cannot be assumed that women will choose a less corrupt behaviour. Goetz shows how opportunities for corruption are shaped by gender; In South Asia, gender mediates women's access to the public sphere and opportunities for illicit earnings. Where interactions with men are forbidden, women may participate in corrupt practices thanks to male relatives serving as mediators. Goetz comments that promoting women in politics as a bulwark against corruption serves to view "women as instruments to achieve a broader development goal" rather than welcoming them to public office as a matter of their democratic and social rights. Furthermore, "women" does not denote a single social group . It is inaccurate to overlook the many kinds of allegiances and priorities enjoyed by women from different economic, ethnic and social backgrounds. The evidence is mixed concerning the effect of women in politics. Goetz comments "Most of the evidence on women's corruption or lack of it in politics or public services is anecdotal, or else can be derived parenthetically from case studies of public sector reform that happen to examine bureaucracies staffed by women." She cites examples of experiments in reforms of degraded public services that hire a new category of people to staff new delivery systems: "These new staff members can be male or female; what influences their excellent performance are new incentive systems and accountability systems producing a sense of group calling, and better monitoring".
  • V. Alatasa, L. Cameron, A. Chaudhuric, N. Erkalb and L. Gangadharanb also challenge this thesis. " [their]paper contributes to the literature by investigating gender differences in attitudes towards corruption. It departs from the previous literature on gender and corruption by using experimental methodology. Attitudes towards corruption play a critical role in the persistence of corruption. Based on experimental data collected in Australia (Melbourne), India (Delhi), Indonesia (Jakarta) and Singapore, we show that while women in Australia are less tolerant of corruption than men in Australia, there are no significant gender differences in attitudes towards corruption in India, Indonesia and Singapore. Hence, our findings suggest that the gender differences found in the previous studies may not be nearly as universal as stated and may be more culture-specific. We also explore behavioral differences by gender across countries and find that there are larger variations in women's attitudes towards corruption than in men's across the countries in our sample".

Ways in which corruption has a particularly damaging impact on women

There are significant ways in which the effects of corruption are particularly harsh on women. Since women often face social, cultural, political and institutional discrimination it is likely that women will face even more repression in a corruption-ridden society. If access to such institutions is restricted by gender considerations, corruption compounds this by making it even more difficult for women to access public goods including services. What follows is a brief explanation of the ways in which women are affected disproportionately by corruption. The fight against corruption can improve their opportunities and prospects.

Access to decision-making: Corruption undermines a level playing field for women and men in decision-making. When political parties can be bought and sold, when officials are elected through vote-buying and when promotion within the civil service or corporate sector is related to personal connections rather than merit, there is less chance that women can increase their representation in Parliament or at management levels within the public or private sector.

Protection and advancement of women's rights: Corruption is often associated with endemic disregard for human rights and a rise in organised crime, including human trafficking. Minority groups and less-advantaged groups such as women and girls will suffer disproportionately in a context where human rights violations are ignored by a corrupt law enforcement system. Moreover, a corrupt judiciary will reinforce existing explicit or implicit gender discrimination. Women's civil rights are often grossly inequitable with regard to marriage/divorce, allegations of adultery/rape, child custody, inheritance, property rights and financial independance. Because women generally lack access to resources, "he" who can pay will win any case brought to remedy such discrimination by corrupting the prosecutors and/or judges. An independent media is one of the most important tools for promoting equal rights for women as well as for combating corruption. When the state, political parties or private interests control the media, or when it can be bought, it will be less likely to give fair coverage of women's issues.

Access to and control over resources: Corruption reduces public revenues, often resulting in lower levels of spending on basic services such as education, health care, family benefits and other social services, which predominantly affect women's and children's welfare (although men, particularly if they are the primary care-givers and home-managers, are affected too). Corruption also increases the obstacles for women entrepreneurs, by distorting access to credit and making it more difficult to obtain the necessary licenses and permits. Corruption in the water and energy sectors that reduces access to clean water and affordable household energy will particularly impact poor women, who often bear the burden of seeking water and fuel for their families.Corruption in the water and energy sectors that reduces access to clean water and affordable household energy will particularly impact poor women, who often bear the burden of seeking water and fuel for their families. For example, see the Gender and Water Alliance which aims to mainstream gender into water policies, making sure that women are involved in the planning and carrying out of water policies.

Do women face different forms of abusive or corrupt behaviour from public officials than men?

Goetz wonders if "women asked for bribes less often than men because they are not seen to have as much money? Or do they tend, as home-managers, to face corruption of different types and at different levels than men working in the formal economy - in other words, an 'everyday' form of corruption, 'informal' payments for public services, payments that are not measured in formal indices of corruption levels? Is the 'currency' of corruption sometimes sexual harassment or abuse? For instance, do officials extort sexual favors, rather than money, in return for services?"

An example of how women experience corruption diffrently from men is the situation reported by Transparency International Azerbaidjan. Transparency Azerbaijan's Advocacy and Legal Advice Centre (ALAC) provides a forum to provide legal advice and follow up complaints of corrupt activities. On 27 July 2005, a woman came to ALAC in Baku and complained of the corrupt behaviour of police officers who had detained her and a friend in the street, fined them for prostitution (which, while not a criminal offence, can be charged under the Administrative Code, carrying a fine of $10 to $50), and brought them to the Ramany hospital for examination. The women claimed they were forced to pay a bribe to the chief doctor in exchange for their release from the hospital. The relevant legislation states that no one can force a medical examination on suspects unless they are implicated in the complaint of someone reporting a disease, or if something is found by a doctor during a regular medical examination. In this case, the police charged the women with disseminating venereal diseases and detained them at the hospital for enforced treatment, something well beyond their authority.Upon hearing the complaint, ALAC sent letters to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Ministry of National Security and the Prosecutor General. Although the official response of the Ministry of Internal Affairs was that the police acted within the limits of the law, ALAC's intervention sparked a number of changes. At the request of the Prosecutor General, the Minister of Health removed Ramany's high security status, reducing the opportunity for extortion. In addition to demonstrating to those who feel powerless that it is possible to fight back, this will eventually contribute towards improved treatment of venereal diseases (and potentially HIV/AIDS) as they come to be seen as medical and social problems rather than merely breeding grounds for corruption.

Mainstreaming gender into anti-corruption policy

Mainstreaming gender into policy areas means that one assesses the implications for men and women of any planned actions, thereby ensuring that women's as well as men's concerns and experiences are reflected in the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies and programmes, so that men and women benefit equally.

GTZ papers gives an overview of the impact of corruption on gender and vice versa, as well as recommendations on gender-related anti-corruption approaches in development cooperation. In this document you will be able to find examples of approaches taken to make anti-corruption efforts more gender sensitive. In terms of recommending approaches they endorse, amongst others, gender-oriented participatory budgetary planning and analysis; using anti-corruption regulation to improve governance in pluralistic legal systems and, in greater detail, they explain how to take a gender sensitive approach to corruption in connection with trafficking in women. They also recommend policy strategies which are sensitive to the impact of corruption on women in this area.

TheUNDP handbook on gender mainstreaming first details steps to integrating gender into the policy-making process with reference to any policy area or sector. The gender mainstreaming process is divided into 10 stages. It is worth looking at each of these steps as they describe a practical policy-making process. One of these steps includes developing arguments for gender equality. Crucial considerations for policy options aiming at mainstreaming gender issues into anti-corruption policy will be efficiency, i.e. the cost-benefit analysis; effectiveness i.e. the degree to which your goal will be met and social justice including gender equality which takes into consideration the "extent to which social and historical disadvantages between different groups in society will be addressed and compensated." Then, the report sets out a sectoral approach to mainstreaming gender. Corruption, as a cross-cutting theme can take place in any and every sector of society.

Finding examples of gender-sensitivity in anti-corruption reforms is difficult. It is worth also looking at indirect consequences of gender policies on corruption. In Lagos, Nigeria, for example, there has been a structured policy to appoint women to the higher bench, as judges. While this is aimed at improving access to justice for women and improving gender balance, it also serves to reduce or eliminate some of the manifestations of corruption such as biases against women in the adjudication of cases and sexual exploitation. However in this regard, corruption is a cross cutting issue and not the main target of the policy.


  • A-M. Goetz, "Political Cleaners: How Women are the New Anti-Corruption Force. Does the Evidence Wash?" (2003)
  • V. Alatasa, L. Cameron, A. Chaudhuric, N. Erkalb and L. Gangadharanb in Gender and Corruption: Insights from an Experimental Analysis.
  • GTZ, Corruption and Gender: Approaches and Recommendations for TA. Focal Theme: Corruption and Trafficking in Women, 2004. UNDP Gender Mainstreaming in Practice: a Handbook.

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