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Corruption stands in the way of women accessing land and basic services in Africa: What can be done?

A video still from Widow's Cry, Pakorpa Susangho

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Transparency Int'l

In the framework of the celebration of International Women's Day and eight years to 2030 – the target year for the delivery of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by heads of state and government – African countries cannot afford to leave women behind and at the margins of development, much less due to corruption.

Despite 54 African countries signing up to deliver on the SDG promise, Transparency International's research reveals that these countries might be far from achieving these goals. Women in Africa are the first and foremost victims of inequality and exclusion in part due to embedded corruption. Participants in the 8th session of the Africa Regional Forum on Sustainable Development held in Kigali, Rwanda from 3 to 5 March noted that the opportunity cost of sidelining women amounts to US$60 billion a year.

Women are more likely to be exposed to bribery risks at the point of service provision, particularly in education and health service delivery, due to their social role as primary caretakers of children and the elderly. Certain groups, including poor, uneducated and rural women, are particularly vulnerable, as well as other groups at risk of discrimination, such as persons with disabilities and LGBTQ+ communities.

In 2019, Transparency International surveyed over 47,000 people in 35 African countries. One in four of the surveyed users of public services paid a bribe. With women comprising two-thirds of all patients in public health systems, and children as the next most significant group, they are the most affected by this type of corruption.

Corruption, gender and poverty go hand in hand

Numerous studies highlight those women are most affected by inequality, not least because they represent the largest proportion of people living in poverty, but because corruption worsens existing inequalities due to asymmetric power relationships. The prevalence of land corruption is one good example. Corruption deprives women of accessing land – a resource they are heavily reliant on to survive.

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Such corruption takes many forms, from bribery to sexual extortion, including demands of sexual favours in return for land services. This is exacerbated by traditions that prevent women from inheriting land and exclude them from land deals or receiving adequate compensation for land they sell. In other countries where legislation supports women’s land rights, enforcement is often weak, and women’s claims are frequently undermined by traditional practice and custom, which men can manipulate for their own gain.

When it was time to give out plots, the headman said we were too new [to the area] to receive land and if I wanted land, I must have sex with him. I had to agree because we are poor and landless. I only did it because I wanted land, but he wanted to have sex with me indefinitely. When I refused, he threw me out of his village.
Woman in Zimbabwe

For example, in Tanzania, where the law gives women and men equal access to land, customary practice means “women and their land are often considered to be the property of men.” When women do not have money or resources to challenge this legally, they are sometimes forced to use their bodies as currencies for a bribe.

Land corruption, therefore, increases gender disparities, undermining women’s livelihoods and social standing and perpetuating poverty.

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Moreover, lack of accessible and understandable information, which keeps men and women of different generations and backgrounds unaware of their land rights, disenfranchises them from claiming their rights and holding those in power accountable.

Against this background, if we are to tackle corruption in land and basic services delivery effectively, we need to develop solutions that address corruption in a systematic manner.

Turning the tide against corruption: fostering inclusive development and improved livelihoods

When corruption vulnerabilities in a given public sector are understood – in this case, land and basic social services – stakeholders are better equipped to develop strategies to address them. Policies and governance arrangements in the land sector and the delivery of basic services must have transparency and accountability at their heart. This will increase the trust levels of citizens – as rightful users and beneficiaries and reduce the risks of corruption. Transparency International’s research shows that countries that score the highest in the CPI are countries where public services operate with higher levels of transparency and accountability.

But this is not enough. It's clear that women alone cannot win the fight against corruption in public services and their access to land in Africa. This requires involvement of all relevant actors.

To ensure that corruption in land administration and land deals are addressed, Transparency International is working in eight countries: Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe to equip and mobilise women to demand transparency and accountability in the land sector as well as report corrupt practices in a safe and secure manner. We also promote and pressure national decision- and policymakers to adopt anti-corruption laws, policies and measures to prevent and redress corruption in land distribution, acquisition and dispute management, and to do so by creating knowledge hubs and connecting existing civil society networks. This is done with the financial support of the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).

To address corruption-related barriers to gender equality in education and healthcare in Africa, Transparency International is implementing a project focusing on five countries: Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Madagascar, Rwanda and Zimbabwe. Here, we will focus on both a performance change of public institutions that have the capacities to ensure that education and healthcare services are provided free of corruption and a behavioural change among citizens, particularly women, girls and those at risk of discrimination, to speak out and report corruption and demand accountable and transparent services. We will also target influential stakeholders who can engage in coalitions and partnerships to mainstream anti-corruption issues within the education and healthcare agenda and create a supportive environment to reduce corruption-related barriers to gender equality in the education and health sectors. This work is supported by Global Affairs Canada (GAC).

There can’t be a prosperous Africa based on inclusive growth and sustainable development – as aspired to and envisioned in Agenda 2063 of the Africa Union – without women achieving gender equality, respect for their human rights and access to justice. Lest these noble global and regional goals become pipe dreams.