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Empowering women against corruption

As many as six Nepalese women die giving birth at home every day without medical equipment or supervision. Many of them are teenagers. A government programme offers small cash allowances to women who gave birth in hospital. It’s the kind of initiative that is desperately needed, and yet in one district local officials created lists of fake mothers, and pocketed the money themselves.

Nepalese women are not alone. Whether bribery, stolen state assets or sexual exploitation, corruption hurts women and girls around the world.

In the lead-up to meetings at the end of June on a UN convention to eliminate discrimination against women, it is time we recognise why and how corruption discriminates against women and girls differently than it does men.

Seventy per cent of the world’s poor are women and girls and corruption keeps them without jobs, education, healthcare, clean water and legal rights.

As the world looks beyond 2015 and new global development commitments to succeed the Millennium Development Goals, effective policies are needed to tackle the corruption that keeps women and girls trapped in a cycle of blocked opportunities.

Corruption and Women

of women worldwide report having paid a bribe.
– Global Corruption Barometer 2013

Unequal power dynamics between women and men make women more vulnerable to the impact of corruption, limiting their chances to get involved in politics, save money or use public services.

…we received many complaints regarding the payment of a monthly stipend by the government to women in flood-affected areas. In many cases, women were unable to reach the distribution point because they were being pushed out by men, depriving them of their share.”

Maryam Mughal, Transparency International Pakistan

As primary care-givers for families, women are often in more frequent contact with basic services like education and health facilities and are thus more exposed to demands of bribes. While the whole family suffers the consequences of corruption, women can be disproportionately affected.

This is a reflection of the problem of gender-specific forms of corruption, such as sexual extortion in exchange for services or preferential treatment. Studies on 15 Sub-Saharan African countries found that sexual exploitation of female students by male teachers was so widespread that the practice had become an accepted and “normal” part of school life in many parts of the region.

The burden of a patriarchal system bears down on them not just bureaucratically but also sexually where they endure the humiliating pain of sexual harassment…These women don’t know their rights in the workplace and are afraid of repercussions such as losing their jobs if they speak up.”

Viola Attallah, Transparency International Palestine

What needs to happen

There must be a gender focus to the fight against corruption. Empowering women and promoting their participation in public life should be a cornerstone of any intervention. This includes:

  • Addressing forms of corruption that affect women most
  • Promoting women’s participation in public life
  • Creating gender-sensitive reporting mechanisms
  • Integrating women in the labour force of public services.

Fighting for women’s rights

Transparency International campaigns in many countries to prevent the negative impacts of corruption on women:

Transparency International Maldives held a series of training sessions on building capacity of women candidates running for the local council election. It was attended by nearly 100 women from 20 different atolls.

Transparency International Pakistan works on women’s empowerment through organising women’s assemblies as part of its Eye on Corruption project. Women living in rural areas are given the opportunity to discuss the issues that they face and are trained on how to engage with government employees to exercise their rights.

Transparency International Palestine is pushing for gender-responsive budgets in local councils through its involvement in the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue.

A study by Transparency International Rwanda revealed that five per cent of those surveyed experienced gender-based corruption in the workplace. Based on these results, we have called on the Rwandan government to raise awareness about the issue and review the anti-corruption law to make it specific to this form of corruption.

Many of our anti-corruption legal advice centres have developed special sessions for vulnerable groups, including women, to empower them to fight corruption by providing free and confidential legal support. In some countries, women tend to be under-represented among all those filing complaints of corruption.

To learn more about the links between gender, corruption and inequality, see Transparency International’s policy brief.

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