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Do we need women-specific anti-corruption projects?

For decades, gender sensitivity has been part of project design in a range of international development and assistance programmes, including anti-corruption efforts. The concept simply acknowledges that different policies and programmes have differing impacts on men and on women.

But has enough been done to make programme design practices gender-sensitive? And do we need women-specific anti-corruption projects?

Is corruption different for men and women?

The UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the Huairou Commission (a coalition of grassroots women’s organisations) launched a joint study at the 15th International Anti-Corruption Conference in 2012. “Seeing Beyond the State: Grassroots Women’s Perspectives in Corruption and Anti-Corruption” shows that women perceive corruption differently from men, are affected by corruption differently than men, and act against corruption differently than men. The study also finds that women – especially at the grassroots level – are disproportionately and harder hit by corruption than men.

Recently, Transparency International chapters from Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Pakistan, Rwanda and Zimbabwe discussed these disparities in a tele-conference. These chapters had all noticed that women generally engage less in their anti-corruption activities than men.

Impediments to engaging women in anti-corruption

Woman in Uganda

The six Transparency International chapters shared their experiences and challenges in reaching out to women. They also identified some reasons that engaging women in anti-corruption efforts has proven difficult.

They point to a range of interconnecting causes, from traditional beliefs to marginalisation and poverty, which impede women’s full participation.

These include:

  • In Africa, many women retain their traditional role as caretakers of the family. They have little spare time to engage in activities that are not of immediate relevance and benefit to them.
  • The majority of women in Africa are marginalised. Poverty and limited educational opportunities can result in women being poorly informed or completely unaware of their right to participate in decision-making. Likewise, women often feel they lack the education or status which would empower them to become active in the public sphere.
  • Women frequently lack the economic means to participate, and their poverty makes them even more vulnerable. Corruption – in the form of paying small bribes, paying with sexual favours and being exploited – is perceived as part of life. Few women are aware that these acts are criminal and violate their human rights, or that they can do something against them.
  • In traditional African society there is often a social expectation that women should be humble. This can keep women from publicly raising their voices to speak up against corruption and impunity, or from demanding a say in decision-making processes. Women fear becoming stigmatised or public targets by raising their voices. Some fear being seen as victims of gender inequality, which undermines their power as members of the general citizenry.
  • Many of these concerns are paralleled in Pakistan, where culture restricts women mainly to the house, making it difficult for them to participate in public anti-corruption activities.

Ways to get women involved in the fight against corruption

The six participating chapters agreed that there are solutions to many of these challenges. Some are emerging, some are already being used by our chapters.

  • Women need safe spaces to speak out against corruption, perhaps in churches or women-only meetings.
  • Anti-corruption activists need to understand better how women are affected by corruption and hear from them about the optimal ways to fight it. The UNDP/Huairou study is a good step towards generating this understanding and designing appropriate action.
  • Anti-corruption civic education needs to target women through means that readily reach women – existing women’s community organisations are one good channel.
Rwanda gender report cover

Examples from our chapters

Transparency International Rwanda: Following complaints received by our Rwandan chapter’s legal advice centre, the chapter carried out a study – Gender Based Corruption in Workplaces in Rwanda – which confirmed that women faced special forms of corruption in many types of employment. The study’s recommendations formed the basis of the chapter’s ongoing advocacy campaigns, which address women in cities and institutions around the country and through national and community radio stations.

Transparency International Zimbabwe works with women through its legal advice centres in Harare and Bulawayo and its Community Mobilisation and Advocacy project. They look at ‘women and corruption’ from two angles: women as perpetrators, and women as victims and witnesses. The Zimbabwean chapter’s outreach to women involves the creation of monitoring committees for women partnering with community-based women’s organisations, and a sectoral approach through targeted advocacy in issues close to women’s interest, like education.

Reasons to make anti-corruption projects women-specific

The six Transparency International chapters concluded their recent discussion with a determination to make certain anti-corruption projects more women-specific, for multiple reasons:

  • Corruption affects everyone, but women are particularly affected by corruption in the public and basic services.
  • Women in positions of power are perceived as less corrupt and they need to be engaged as opinion makers, role models and champions.
  • Better educated and informed women are better empowered to fight corruption.
  • In families, integrity values are primarily passed to children through women.
  • Women are more affected by poverty than men – therefore, they are also more affected by the poverty-corruption cycle.
Image from the workshop in Accra

If corruption is endemic in society – as it is in most African countries, as the Corruption Perceptions Index 2012 shows – we need to engage women more effectively through targeted approaches in the fight against corruption.

Toward that end, this week nine Transparency International chapters in Africa were joined by other civil society organisations for a workshop aimed at better engaging women and youth in their everyday work. The gathering in Accra, Ghana included representatives of our chapters in Ethiopia, Ghana, Liberia, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

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