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Governments have to get serious about tackling the impact of corruption on women

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M Emilia Berazategui

Global Advocacy Coordinator, Transparency International

Instead of remembering this as the year of the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 should have been the year we celebrated the twenty-fifth anniversary of one of the most visionary agendas for women’s rights and empowerment: the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.

The devastating impacts of COVID-19 are one of the reasons that the limited gains made in the past decades on gender equality are at risk of being rolled back. This is made worse by the failure of many countries to promote gender sensitive measures in response to the pandemic. Corruption, fuelled by the COVID-19 pandemic, is likely to worsen gender disparities.

Even in times less extraordinary than this, some forms of corruption disproportionately affect women. Recent reports (here, here and here) have published disaggregated data on the impact that corruption has on women. In Latin America and the Caribbean, for example, recent surveys found that in several countries a majority of people think that anti-corruption complaints made by men are more likely to result in action than those made by women. Women are also less likely to know about their right to request information from public institutions, a basic right and tool in order to tackle corruption.

While the impact of corruption on women has become increasingly prominent on the global agenda, and some high-level commitments on this topic have been made, there is much room for improvement. A recent report published by Transparency International provides some ideas on how countries, especially those that are members of the Open Government Partnership (OGP), can start addressing the impact that corruption has on women.

Mainstream gender into anti-corruption strategies and frameworks

Governments can make a significant difference if they design and implement public policies with a gender perspective. Policies should be developed in partnership with civil society, the private sector, trade unions and other stakeholders, and should include common anti-corruption components.

Integrating women’s experiences into anti-corruption strategies, frameworks and action plans is key.

Ideas for how countries could do this effectively, include the development and implementation of gender sensitive reporting mechanisms for anti-corruption, which tackle the social, economic and political barriers to women seeking redress when affected by corruption

A critical, and often missing, component is ensuring we have an evidence base for our actions. Collecting, analysing and disseminating gender-disaggregated data on public service delivery and corruption, including on sextortion, a form of extortion where sex is the currency of the bribe, is fundamental to success.

As is, timely access to sufficient, accurate and up-to-date information in order to design, implement and monitor effective public policies, and to better integrate gender into anti-corruption policies.

Collecting gender-disaggregated data on citizen’s access to public services and social programmes, with a focus on sectors where women are traditionally the point of contact, and in public services specifically targeted at women, is crucial if governments are to have a broad impact.

This includes recognising and addressing sextortion as a form of corruption, and ensuring the justice system can effectively receive, investigate and prosecute complaints made by women

Recent surveys from Latin America and the Caribbean and the MENA region found that one in five people experiences sextortion when accessing a government service, or knows someone who has. This is unacceptable and needs to be ended once and for all. It is time for governments to recognise sextortion as a unique offence and amend their approach to tackling it at multiple levels.

As a starting point, governments could legally define sextortion as a criminal offence that has a corruption component and a sexual abuse component. They could apply specific criminal sanctions and assign trained gender-sensitive law-enforcement officials and prosecutors to receive and prosecute cases of sextortion.

Support the participation of women in public and political life

Participation in political and public life is a basic human right, yet women have fewer opportunities to participate in both, largely relying on policies designed by men to address their specific needs. Diversity and equal representation of different social groups in public and political life is a necessary condition for responsive and accountable public institutions.

The risks posed not only by COVID-19, but also by corruption, to gender equality require immediate action. While commitments and promises are a starting point, if not translated into concrete action they are just empty words.

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