“Women are not just asked for money, but also sex.” This was said by a participant who Transparency International spoke to in Indonesia as part of the new report examining the relationship between gender and experiences with corruption.
A new report, Corruption Through a Gender Lens, analysed the results of the Global Corruption Barometer (GCB) Asia and Pacific 2020 and 2021 through women’s eyes. It explored how gender norms, inequality and gender shape peoples’ experiences with public officials in four countries in the region: Cambodia, Fiji, Indonesia and Sri Lanka.
Although Transparency International’s GCB provides the most comprehensive survey data available to examine reported experiences and attitudes towards corruption and anti-corruption, its findings largely suggest that women and men are similarly vulnerable to requests for bribes in the region. Only the latest GCB surveys provides, first of its kind, data on sextortion, which occurs when those entrusted with power use it to sexually exploit those dependent on that power.
However, corruption levels and gender inequality remain stubbornly high across many countries in the region. To shed light into the extent in which corruption in the Asia Pacific is gendered and the interplay between gender inequality and corruption, Transparency International organised focus group discussions with a number of women to explore commonly held attitudes and perceptions around gender and corruption.
Women recognised key themes, including how entrenched gender norms contribute to broader gender inequality, influencing individuals' interactions with public officials. These norms also impact the willingness to report corruption, as women may hesitate to do so, fearing it could undermine their family's access to services. The report further suggests that women, who are busy with caretaking responsibilities, tend to have less awareness and time to seek information and demand accountability.
Bribery was a common experience for all participants, irrespective of gender identification. However, findings across all countries suggest that women face unique vulnerabilities to corruption, particularly in becoming victims of sextortion. Marginalised women may be disproportionately targeted with sextortion advances and less likely to challenge or report requests to engage in corruption. They are also seen as “easy targets” for bribery and experience more pressure to pay bribes or engage in sextortion on behalf of those they care for. Many of these victims are not aware that sextortion is a form of bribery or corruption.
How to address gendered challenges: Our recommendations
To address these challenges, we are calling on policymakers to make anti-corruption policies gender sensitive and contextually appropriate. They should establish corruption reporting mechanisms that consider how gender influences people’s willingness to report it and recognising the intersectional factors that act as barriers to justice. Asia Pacific countries should also develop legal frameworks for sextortion, to facilitate the prosecution of cases and invest and allocate resources to victims of sextortion, as well as training to justice officials handling such cases.
All of this will help, but it is not enough unless policy actors and civil society groups empower women – particularly women who are marginalised in anti-corruption and other governance systems. Efforts should also be made to develop strategies to raise awareness about sextortion, challenge preconceived gender stereotypes and norms among the public and public officials, and inform potential victims about their rights to services, access to information and corruption reporting channels.
While the findings in this report make clear that corruption and its impacts are gendered, continued research is required on gendered experiences in Asia and the Pacific on how intersectionality impacts vulnerability to and the experience of sextortion.
The gendered nature of corruption in Asia and the Pacific will not substantively change until broader societal changes are made.
This report sheds light into the extent in which corruption in the Asia Pacific is gendered and the interplay between gender inequality and corruption.