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Benefiting people and the planet: Why we must prioritise gender in anti-corruption and climate efforts

A woman harvesting seaweed in Zanzibar for soap, cosmetics, and medicine. Because of rising water temperatures, crops are failing, endangering women seaweed farmers' livelihoods. Photo: SanderMeertinsPhotography/Shutterstock

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Transparency Int'l

No matter what situation you find yourself in, gender* likely influences how you experience it.

The climate crisis, for example, will affect all of us in one way or another, yet women often feel the effects of climate change more acutely. Similarly, (gender) discrimination can result in greater exposure to corruption and can mean women are disproportionately affected by it and prevented from challenging corrupt actions because of their limited access to resources.

Taking the climate crisis and corruption separately, the findings are straightforward: because of gender inequality, women suffer more than men under similar circumstances. However, what happens when we bring these issues together and explore their interconnectedness remains to be seen.

How do highly corrupt environments affect how people of different genders adjust to climate change or how they intervene to fight against it? What happens to women when climate projects are not delivered in full or at all when funds are mismanaged? And how does the climate crisis impact those who already have limited access to resources such as land because of corrupt practices?

Together with our chapters worldwide, we’re looking for ways to ensure gender is not only acknowledged but actively prioritised in all climate efforts, bringing benefits to people and the planet.

Here’s what we found so far.

Prioritising the inclusion of women in the entire climate intervention process

The sheer amount of hundreds of billions of dollars invested in climate change mitigation and adaptation programmes create an environment ripe for corruption. What’s more, the interventions that do get funded and effectively implemented don’t always consider the needs of different groups, exacerbating existing inequalities and missing the people most in need of support.

According to Transparency International Maldives, discrimination against women often permeates the climate intervention process, from planning and design to implementation and evaluation. Government and regulatory institutions are dominated by men, leading to inequality in the opportunities available to women to participate in decision-making forums. Existing gender biases in community consultation processes further limit women’s active involvement in relevant discussions. It is not that women don’t have the knowledge or the will to take participate; they are just not listened to.

And in the case of grievance mechanisms and gender indicators, our colleagues in the Maldives noted that they only find their way into projects when requested by donors. A climate expert in the country put it this way:

The women who speak out on climate issues in the Maldives are hyper-aware of the climate threat they face. They are also ahead of the curve in terms of confidence, leadership, and knowledge of the subject matter. The main reason climate project formulation and implementation are so poor is the fact that the (already tokenistic) public consultation process is performed as a checkbox exercise and often excludes women at the design stage. It simply comes down to providing women with a safe space to express their opinions and concerns and also incorporating their feedback.
Ahmed Afrah Ismail Zero Waste Maldives

Our global research has found that the lack of safe and accessible reporting mechanisms is more than just a feature in individual countries’ climate projects. We assessed some of the major climate funds and discovered that while all of them have included gender in their governance policies to some degree, there’s room for improvement in actively addressing the barriers stopping women from reporting wrongdoing. Without such policies, bias and discrimination in community consultation and decision-making processes will continue to harm women’s ability to benefit from climate projects and confront corruption. It may also result in limited climate outcomes – or even an increased risk of adverse effects for the climate, increased vulnerability to climate change, or diminished welfare, also known as “maladaptation”.

Hundreds of billions of dollars are being invested in climate action. As this volume of funding could lead to corruption, it is absolutely necessary to have robust governance frameworks to manage the risks. We analysed the governance frameworks of 5 large climate funds and prepared recommendations for better anti-corruption protections.

Check out the results

On a smaller scale, examples of local projects show us how barriers to participation can be done away with successfully. When an environmental impact assessment of a mining project was underway in Kasempa, a district in the North-Western part of Zambia, our colleagues at Transparency International Zambia teamed up with the Environmental Management Agency to create public information materials and reports in a clear and accessible language. Having worked in the region, they understood that women are sometimes left out of public consultations because they are unaware that they have the right to take part or don’t feel welcome in an environment where male leadership is the norm. However, important aspects of projects’ impacts can be overlooked without the involvement of half the population.

We have become increasingly aware that to combat corruption, supporting women’s voices and agency is critical. Women need to have a seat at the table, and they need to be part of decisions about mining projects.
Tamika Halwiindi Project Officer at Transparency International Zambia

The materials provided and the active approach to women in the community resulted in higher participation of women and a more holistic final assessment that considered the needs of the entire community. Overall, such improvements also considerably reduce the risks of corruption during and after the environmental impact assessments, guaranteeing the integrity of the process.

Community engagement activity in Kalumbila, Zambia. Photo credit: Transparency International Zambia

If donors and governments are serious about ensuring that women are equal parties in the decision-making, planning and implementation of climate projects, they must guarantee that such interventions don’t remain a local exception.

We recommend that they:

  • Adopt a gender lens when assessing how climate interventions and programming might affect women and men differently (recognising that people of different genders are not singular, homogenous groups).
  • Understand power structures within government and community institutions as a starting point to confront both corruption and systemic and structural barriers to women’s participation.
  • Support women’s leadership and decision-making in climate action.
  • Strengthen local grievance mechanisms so that they are accessible and effective for people of all genders to raise concerns about corruption in the design and delivery of climate mitigation and adaptation projects.

During this session at the International Anti-corruption Conference, led by the World Wide Fund for Nature, a group of key conservation and anti-corruption actors will launch a community of practice for countering environmental corruption. Whether you are involved in environmental conservation or the fight against corruption, this is the place to be – join the discussion on how we can scale up joint efforts to meet the challenge of environmental corruption.

Register now

Protecting women’s access to resources and strengthening their ability to take climate action

Societal norms and values determine access to and control over resources and decision-making powers. In many communities, women and girls depend on natural resources to secure their livelihoods and are traditionally responsible for fulfilling many domestic activities, such as collecting water and fuel for cooking and heating.

In Fiji, for example, this means that rising sea levels, coastal erosion and intense storm surges are disproportionately affecting Fiji’s fisherwomen, putting their livelihoods and ability to feed themselves and their families at risk.

If projects designed to improve access to clean water or to protect coastal zones from intense storm surges are not delivered because of corruption, the women who would otherwise benefit from these projects will suffer. Their independence would be affected, resulting in greater economic inequality between different genders.

In other cases, access to land can similarly impact women’s ability to enjoy higher incomes and food security and to lead independent lives. Widespread corruption in land administration and management, as well as land grabbing and conflict over resources, has greatly limited women’s opportunities and contributed to entrenched gender inequality. This limited economic and decision-making power prevents women from benefiting from economic opportunities and sustainable development.

A meeting of Transparency International Brazil with a group of local women farmers in a land grabbing and deforestation hotspot in the region of the BR-319 highway, the State of Amazonas. The meeting was organised by Casa do Rio, one of the organizations supporting sustainable agriculture carried out by women in the area. Photo: Kátia Demeda/Transparency International Brazil

Our chapter in Brazil analysed the effects of land grabbing on both women’s inequality and the environment. They found that these issues are inextricably interconnected and require joint action:

Land grabbing threatens land rights and contributes to climate vulnerability. This can exacerbate gender inequality, as women are particularly reliant on land as a source of livelihoods, food, and economic security, as well as a space for the creation of family and interactions with the community. Addressing this issue is essential to protect the lives and livelihoods of women, Indigenous peoples and traditional communities, but also to mitigate the impact on the climate crisis.
Kátia Demeda An anthropologist at Transparency International Brazil

Not only does stopping land corruption benefit women, but research also suggests that when women hold secure rights to land, efforts to tackle climate change are more successful, and the responsibilities and benefits associated with climate change response programs are more equitably distributed.

To ensure this becomes a reality on a large scale, we recommend that donors and governments:

  • Take concrete steps to reduce land corruption and fulfil women’s land rights, ensuring that relevant policies and regulations specifically protect women and ensure their inclusion in decision-making processes, including on climate issues.
  • Reduce gender gaps in access to control over natural resources, including ensuring that climate-related investments improve women’s economic status and reduce inequality.
  • Strengthen inclusive and accessible local grievance mechanisms that support people when seeking land justice so that they are accessible and effective for people of all genders to raise concerns about corruption.

The panel at the International Anti-corruption Conference will explore how the capture of land and natural resources by political and business elites is contributing to the climate crisis and increased climate vulnerability as well as human rights abuses, land conflict, and decreased tenure security. Join us to learn about concrete solutions to land grabbing including investigative journalism, open data solutions, and strengthened land rights.

Register now

Interested in learning more about how climate change, gender and corruption connect with each other? Check out our latest paper on Anti-Corruption Knowledge Hub which provides an overview of the existing literature, experiences and project examples on climate, gender and corruption.

Climate change, gender and corruption

* In the article, we're primarily using a binary understanding of the concept of gender (as men and women) solely because the available evidence follows this approach. There is no intention of diluting identities on the gender spectrum.