This module is a resource for lecturers  


Gendered impacts of corruption


Correlation versus causation


Ways in which corruption can affect men and women differently

Corruption tends to affect people differently relative to a range of factors, including gender, context, race, socioeconomic status, power relations and vulnerability. In many contexts, it is suspected that corruption can affect women more adversely than it does men. This is because vulnerable groups are more susceptible to corruption, and women are often more vulnerable than men (discrimination and oppression on the basis of sex and gender is a case in point - see more on this issue in Module 9 of the E4J University Module Series on Integrity and Ethics). Furthermore, insofar as some groups of women are more vulnerable than others, it follows that more vulnerable women are likely to be more adversely affected by corruption than those that are less vulnerable.

The evidence generally shows that the gendered impact of corruption is related to societal gender roles, social inequality and discrimination. Thus, women's disadvantages in many areas of life result in greater vulnerability to corruption compared to men, who enjoy more power and protection, and better access to countervailing strategies, including the justice system. Corruption severely influences the extent to which women's rights are ensured and protected. For example, law enforcement institutions and processes may rely only on anecdotal evidence, which leaves room for discretion by officials and therefore corruption such as bribe-seeking and extortion ( Hossain, Musembi and Hughes, 2010). However, Sierra and Boehm (2015) acknowledge that there are many challenges in developing reliable quantitative data on exactly how corruption affects women. To better understand the impact of corruption on women, it is useful to distinguish between direct and indirect acts of corruption.

Women as direct victims of corruption

Both men and women are affected by corruption in its various forms. However, in cases where women find themselves in a social, political, organizational or cultural context where they are more disempowered relative to men, and they are direct victims of corruption, their experiences of corruption can be more acute, and their avenues to respond to it more limited. For example, in cases where women are pressured to pay bribes, they are often less able to afford bribes than men or have less power and authority to resist the pressure. Corrupt criminal justice institutions can further exacerbate the problem, rendering women unable to report cases of bribery or to seek help for victimization. In such cases, women may be directly excluded from crucial services such as health care and education because they do not have the funds to pay bribes.

One of the key risks of corruption that directly affect women and girls is sexual corruption. According to Lindberg and Stensöta (2018), sexual corruption entails using sex and the human body as the currency of corruption. This concept is consistent with UNCAC's characterization of different forms of corruption, discussed at the beginning of the Module. When UNCAC requests States parties to criminalize bribery, abuse of functions and other forms of corruption, the Convention refers to the benefits involved in the corrupt transaction as "undue advantage". Undue advantage is intended to apply as broadly as possible, including in cases where intangible items or non-pecuniary benefits (such as sexual favours) are offered insofar as they create or may create a sense of obligation among the involved parts.

When sexual corruption is coercive, it is sometimes called sexual extortion (see, e.g., this publication). Similarly, the International Association of Women Judges refers to sexual corruption as sextortion. But the term sextortion has also been used differently in different contexts. For example, as noted in Module 12 of the E4J University Module Series on Cybercrime, sextortion can be associated with a form of cyberharassment which occurs when a "perpetrator threatens to disseminate sexually explicit …[images and/or videos] of the victim unless sexual demands are met and/or sexually explicit images or videos are sent to the perpetrator" (Maras, 2016, p. 255).

Owing to corruption in many different contexts, women are often forced to secure access to services through the exchange of sexual services. For example, in Canada, a male immigration adjudicator responsible for deciding whether a South Korean woman would receive refugee status threatened the woman that he will deny her application unless she does "things on the side". In an example from Tanzania, a male court employee forced his female subordinates to sleep with him in order to earn overtime pay. Upon investigation, it was found that the HIV-infected supervisor had spread the infection to all his female employees. For a further discussion of these two cases, and other examples of sexual abuse and corruption, see UNODC's Global Judicial Integrity Network Issue Paper on Gender-Related Judicial Integrity Issues as well as this U4 Brief. For a related discussion by the World Bank on how corruption affects vulnerable and impoverished communities, see here. A lecture on YouTube titled When the Bribe Isn't Money: Gender, Corruption and Sextortion outlines the importance of understanding corruption and its effects on women beyond economic terms and harms. Differentiating data on men's and women's experiences of corruption is difficult, but it is important to acknowledge the unique vulnerabilities of women and how these vulnerabilities may affect their experience of corruption.

In fragile and post-conflict States with weak governments and rule of law, corruption can exacerbate gross abuses of women's human rights in the form of rape, violence and forced displacement. Examples of gender-based discrimination and corruption can exist in many areas of society, including law enforcement, where women may be less able to present complaints without having to pay bribes or to have their complaints treated seriously. More extreme cases also have a direct impact on women, such as corrupt police forces and customs officers or politicians facilitating human trafficking, which often affects women and girls (UNODC, 2017). Sexual corruption targeting women can also occur during conflict and post-conflict peacekeeping and reconstruction efforts. An example of direct corruption is evident in the sex-for-food scandals where peacekeeping forces and aid workers supplied food and other resources on condition of sexual favours from women and children ( Hossain, Musembi and Hughes, 2010). 

Lastly, it has been suggested that women are more likely than men to be asked to pay bribes when seeking public services. Given their greater involvement in ensuring the family's education and health, including reproductive health, women are more likely to seek these public services and therefore to be asked to pay bribes associated with seeking those services (Sierra and Boehm, 2015). Experiential corruption surveys carried out by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in a number of countries, however, caution that women's experiences with bribery are complex and context-dependent. Surveys carried out in Afghanistan, the western Balkans and Nigeria examined the experiences of men and women in relation to bribery by different governmental authorities. In Afghanistan and the Western Balkans, women reported a higher risk of paying bribes when in contact with health care professionals, but this trend was not identified in Nigeria (data from these surveys are included in the PowerPoint slides in the section on Additional teaching tools).

The differences in the results of these surveys underline the importance of collecting sex-disaggregated data to better understand the experiences of men and women in relation to corruption and thus to be able to better target and tailor the responses. To do this, surveys designed to examine corruption and gender need to be carefully developed and carried out throughout the world. Furthermore, policies formulated based on survey data need to be nuanced and responsive to the complex relationship between corruption, gender, culture, country and context. For more information see Manual on Corruption Surveys (UNODC, UNDP and UNODC-INEGI, 2018, pp. 42-44). 

Women as indirect victims of corruption

Even though corruption does not always have a direct impact, women often suffer from the indirect effects of corruption, for at least three reasons. First, corruption undermines economic development and perpetuates or aggravates poverty. Findings of the World Bank demonstrate that corruption reinforces and can worsen existing inequalities. Corruption disproportionately affects the most vulnerable by increasing costs associated with and barriers to basic goods and services such as health care and education. According to data from the United Nations, most of the poor are women and children (UNDP, 2018). Hence, it is plausible that women suffer more than men when corruption hinders development. In particular, in fragile and post-conflict states that suffer from extreme poverty and corruption, women are affected because they are likely to be excluded from the labour force or credit markets, either by law or in social practice. Thus, corruption can prohibit access to basic rights like food, clothes, housing, medical care and education, and compromises economic opportunities and well-being (Stensöta and Wängnerud, 2018).

Second, women - and particularly poor women - are more dependent than men on public services, which are often depleted by corruption. Corruption in public procurement and contracting, particularly for resources earmarked for marginalized groups, usually results in either higher prices for services or lower quality services (Goetz and Jenkins, 2005). Since women often have lower incomes and fewer alternatives to acquire services such as health care and sanitation, the relative impact of higher-priced services is greater for them than for men. Consider, for example, individual women or groups of women in poverty-stricken areas in countries with political conflict and instability. These women are far less likely than men, or women in developed countries, to be able to access high-priced health services. This is consistent with evidence that corruption is associated with higher female mortality rates and death in childbirth. See the 2014 TI Policy Brief on Gender, Equality and Corruption for more detail.

Third, corruption in political systems perpetuates gender inequalities such as discrimination against women with respect to resources, participation in politics and access to high-level positions in public administration. Large-scale corruption can also undermine and threaten women's rights overall. With data from European countries, Sundström and Wängnerud (2014) show that the level of corruption and government ineffectiveness has a significant and negative effect on how many women get elected as local councillors. Male-dominated decision-making bodies can perpetuate a cycle in which fewer resources are allocated to government policies and programmes that benefit women or allow their participation in government.

Module 8 of the E4J University Module Series on Integrity and Ethics includes a discussion of the ways in which a person's context can influence his or her behaviour. This is relevant to the discussion above about direct and indirect forms of corruption and their impact on women.

Next: Anti-corruption and gender mainstreaming
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