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Anti-corruption response to COVID-19 must include women

Transparency International and UN Women call for inclusive, transparent and corruption-free public policies across Latin America and the Caribbean

Illustration of women wearing masks. (iStock/Ada Yokota)

As the coronavirus or COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread around the world, governments in Latin American and the Caribbean are receiving significant financial support from multilateral organizations, companies and private donors to help coordinate a rapid response.

Speed is important so governments can provide rapid financial support to those communities most affected by the crisis. In doing so though, they must ensure that these funds are distributed equitably, with a special focus on gender, equity, inclusivity, transparency and anti-corruption.

COVID-19 and corruption could worsen gender disparities

A failure to do so, means the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent economic fallout could exacerbate pre-existing gender gaps and inequalities and undermine the progress made on gender equality over the last couple of decades.

In fact, a growing number of reports show that women are disproportionally impacted by COVID-19, both from a health and socio-economic standpoint.

A heavier burden at home and work

In Latin America and the Caribbean, women are often responsible for the care of children, the elderly, the sick and people with disabilities. Women shoulder an additional burden during the COVID-19 crisis when they often have to balance remote work and family, particularly as lockdowns continue and many schools remain closed.

For example, in Mexico, women already spend an average of 39 hours per week on unpaid work, including childcare and household chores, three times as many hours as men. With families spending more time at home, women are at greater risk of carrying a heavier workload.

Essential workers are predominately women

Women also account for a higher proportion of workers in the informal sector. In Latin America and the Caribbean, 54 per cent of women work on the informal economy.

Many of these informal and low skilled and paid jobs have been deemed essential during COVID-19. Those working as nurses, cashiers, and cleaners, who are predominantly women, are also at greater health risk by simply showing up for work.

At the same time, women are also most at risk of losing their jobs, especially in the absence of available childcare and social protection systems. They also stand to lose more than just employment; they may also lose financial independence.

Corruption a catalyst for further inequality

Corruption is likely to worsen gender disparities fuelled by the COVID-19 pandemic. Emergency measures and income inequality are also likely to increase corruption as rich and powerful elites continue to capture political decision-making, using it to protect their private interests at the expense of citizens and the public good.

Wealthy, powerful individuals and corporations may benefit most from COVID-19 emergency bailout packages, which would likely reflect their best interests and further demonstrate how big money in politics fuels corruption.

With less power and influence, women are likely to be left behind from these packages. This includes women from historically marginalised groups in Latin America and the Caribbean, such as migrant, afro-descendant, indigenous, rural, or disabled women.

Emergency funds must include women

Given these gender differences, COVID-19 emergency funds and relief packages must also target women. Any redistribution of public resources must include gender considerations in an effort to save lives and avoid deepening inequalities.

Increased gender awareness in government policy, planning, budgeting and programming is also necessary. Gender budgeting is an important strategy to ensure that public spending is effective, efficient and reaches those who need it most.

UN Women Brief: COVID-19 in Latin America and the Caribbean

How to incorporate women and gender equality in the management of the crisis response.

Ensuring women have equal access to health care

Women and girls have unique health needs, yet they are less likely to have access to quality health services, including essential medicines and vaccines and maternal and reproductive health care.

In addition, women are less likely to have insurance coverage for routine and catastrophic health costs, especially in rural and marginalized communities.

Programs that support victims of domestic violence or provide sexual and reproductive health services, must be appropriately funded.

Corruption often contributes to women’s unequal access to health care. Even in ordinary times, corruption in the health sector causes losses of over US$500 billion every year.

Precious resources lost to corruption could having lasting effects on women and girls, particularly during COVID-19, by preventing them from receiving the lifesaving health services they desperately need.

As a result, some of the most vulnerable groups are at particular risk during COVID-19, including women and girls, but also boys, the elderly, people with disabilities, migrant and refugee women, indigenous, rural and Afro-descendant women, informal workers, women survivors of violence, trans women, lesbian women, gender non-conforming people and women from the community of sexual diversity, among others.

Better data, access to information and leadership

Governments must do more to promote transparency during the COVID-19 pandemic, including disaggregating health and financial data by gender and taking this data into account during decision-making.

In addition, public access to reliable and real-time information is key to preventing and mitigating public health crises. Ensuring women have equal access to this information is also important.

Giving women a seat at the political table and including them in decision-making, especially budgetary and distribution of aid decisions, is also important.

Several female politicians around the world have shown exemplary leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic, making cautious but informed decisions and communicating clearly to their citizens.

Sexual extortion and COVID-19

While there is little research capturing the gender dimension of corruption, and in humanitarian assistance in particular, women represent a higher proportion of people in need of assistance worldwide.

Women are disproportionally affected by the impact of corruption, including access to food, shelter and other services. Women are also disproportionately affected by the inefficient use of public resources and the lack of public services that affect their economic and social rights. In addition, gender-specific forms of corruption such as sexual exploitation, extortion and abuse also affect women.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, recent research shows that one in five people experiences sexual extortion when accessing a government service, like health care or education, or knows someone who has. Data also shows 71 percent think that sextortion happens at least occasionally.

Governments and institutions providing health services play a critical role in preventing sextortion. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, women must be able to access health and other basic services quickly, in a way that also protects them from this type of corruption.

Governments are also responsible for protecting women and girls from these abuses in all contexts. Especially in an emergency, governments have a responsibility to prevent gender-based violence.

Governments must also guarantee violence-free spaces for female health care workers. For women who experience sextortion during the coronavirus pandemic or at other times, Advocacy and Legal Advice Centres (ALACs) are available to support women to take action.


Transparency International and UN Women urge governments in Latin America and the Caribbean to incorporate a gender perspective into their response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, we recommend that governments across the region should:

  • Promote transparency in government spending and ensure appropriate resources to address the differentiated impact of corruption on women and girls, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Ensure women have equal access to life saving treatments, medicines, and sexual and reproductive health services, especially during the pandemic.
  • Commit to real-time information sharing and publishing gender-disaggregated data to better understand how the crisis impacts women.
  • Uphold previous financial commitments to social services and ensure they target women, LGBTIQ+ and other vulnerable groups.
  • Maintain virtual technology, particularly during the pandemic, and strengthen open government, open data and public procedures through online free access.
  • Include women in anti-corruption decision-makingand ensure they have equal participation and representation in the negotiation of emergency relief packages.
  • Devote additional resources to address the increased risk of domestic violence during the pandemicand women’s economic empowerment, as part of socio-economic recovery plans.
  • Create strong, safe reporting mechanisms to empower women who experience sextortion to report abuse.

Our response to the COVID-19 pandemic must meet these challenges and strengthen our commitment to transparency, human rights, equal participation, inclusion, and equality.



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