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Anti-corruption and gender mainstreaming 


Women and sexual minorities are typically affected most by corruption because they are more vulnerable, enjoy fewer protections, and lack the opportunities to create policies that can counter their disadvantages. The differential impacts of corruption on individuals of different genders may be found in all areas of public life and can only be addressed by taking a holistic approach, which involves creating gender equality throughout society. Moreover, as the discussion suggests, gender equality should go beyond reducing the differential impacts of corruption and promote the fight against corruption more generally. 

This implies that gender mainstreaming can be a useful method for fighting and preventing corruption. Gender mainstreaming is an umbrella term for identifying unequal treatment based on gender and taking concrete actions to correct this and to ensure that all genders benefit equally. It aims to integrate a gendered perspective into every stage of the policy process, including design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation. Gender mainstreaming seeks to assess how policies affect the life and position of both women and men and to address imbalances to promote gender equality.  

Addressing differential impact through social policies

The role of women in traditional or patriarchal societies often causes them to interact less often than men with public and private organizations and to lack knowledge about their rights and protections. Therefore, social policies that bring women into the public arena and make information about public services widely available can be critical in reducing the differential impacts of corruption on women. Some examples of concrete gender-specific policies that could help in this regard are:

  • Conducting door-to-door information campaigns that deliver information directly to women (e.g. Raskin postcards in Indonesia; initiatives for health in Roma communities in Romania; education programmes in Cambodia)
  • Improving the quality and delivery of public goods and services that are regularly used by women (especially in areas such as health care and childcare)
  • Promoting women's active involvement in improving public services (e.g. community monitoring programmes, such as parents' involvement in school management committees in many countries. See Duflo, Dupas and Kremer, 2015)
  • Creating, more generally, social policies with a view to empowering women to achieve their potential, for instance through creating labour market opportunities

Differential victimization might also be addressed through legal channels. Some examples of legal structures that address differential victimization include:

  • Establishing legal aid centres that offer advice for women, especially those from minorities and marginalized groups, whose rights have been negatively affected by corruption
  • Establishing specialist legal support for women and girls who are directly affected by extreme forms of corruption such as sextortion
  • Providing confidential information about existing legal and psychological support for victims of abuse in service delivery venues (e.g. local clinics)
  • Promoting legal frameworks that support women's participation in political life (including women from minorities and marginalized groups)

Increasing gender equality to prevent corruption

A correlation exists between high numbers of women in organizations and low levels of corruption. In this light, many policymakers have focused on gender mainstreaming and increasing gender equality in organizations as a key mechanism to combat corruption (Dollar, Fisman and Gatti, 2001; Jha and Sarangi, 2018). Particularly in areas such as government and politics, studies have shown that promoting women to positions as decision makers might help to decrease corruption. A study by Eggers, Vivyan and Wagner (2018) found that women in public office, especially politicians, are more averse to misconduct. As a result of these findings, gender mainstreaming has been increasingly discussed as a tool to curb corruption.

However, when considering the impact that gender mainstreaming may have on corruption, it is important to appreciate the complex interrelationships between gender and corruption in political and cultural contexts. Unqualified claims which overemphasize the role of gender quotas in decreasing corruption can be highly problematic. The following sections outline some of the debates on how gender mainstreaming could decrease corruption.

Cross-national data analysis suggests that the greater the number of women in elected assemblies, the lower a country's level of corruption is likely to be. An inverse relationship, however, is also possible. That is, in an organization where corruption is low, more women are likely to apply for a job. Stensöta and Wängnerud (2018, p. 8) demonstrate a link between the number of women in government and the levels of corruption in democracies. These authors argue that increased participation of women in elected office can reduce corruption, not only because women are more risk-averse, but also because of their different political agenda, namely, they prioritize the advancement of inclusive delivery of public goods and services. Female politicians often seek to improve the delivery of services that benefit women, such as health care and education. By promoting inclusive public services, female representatives could effectively reduce the justification for petty corruption. This phenomenon is called "the women's interest explanation". However, it is important to note that even though women may have more progressive and "pro-social" values overall, it does not necessarily imply that women in public office will - by virtue of their gender - always advance and prioritize women's rights or the rights of vulnerable groups.

A study of 20 European Union countries by Bauhr, Charron and Wängnerud (2018) provides evidence that the inclusion of women in locally elected assemblies reduced corruption. As the number of women in locally elected councils increased, the level of both grand and petty corruption decreased. For example, in the regions where the local council had more than 30 per cent of women representatives, less than ten per cent of the population experienced petty corruption. The effects, however, did vary across different public sectors. While female representation decreased the level of corruption in the health and education sectors, it had no effect on bribes paid to law enforcement agencies. Similarly, while both men and women experienced less bribery as the proportion of elected women increased, the rate of bribes paid decreased most among women. Bauhr, Charron and Wängnerud (2018) concluded that a woman was approximately 3.5 times more likely to pay a bribe in the education sector when the proportion of female representation was at its lowest compared to when it was at its highest.

Bauhr, Charron and Wängnerud (2018) coined the term "exclusion explanation" to explain why including women in locally elected assemblies will reduce corruption. These authors observed that it is more difficult for women to gain access to privileges that stem from corruption because they are excluded from inner circles of power and high-level decision-making processes. Therefore, it is in the individual interest of female politicians to break the corrupt networks and structures that are detrimental to their own political careers and to decrease gender inequality overall.

Generally, women who attain public office seek to further two separate political agenda: The improvement of public service delivery and the disruption of male-dominated networks. One important barrier to women's participation in politics is the norm of group and family voting, which is still present in many societies. This occurs when men influence the votes of women in their families or fill in the voting ballot for them. This form of gender inequality perpetuates corruption by keeping corrupt politicians in power and barring women from challenging them (Stockemer, 2018).

There is no doubt that gender equality is a vital part of the human rights agenda. For a full discussion on the ways in which corruption can have an impact on human rights, including women's rights, see Module 7 of the E4J University Module Series on Anti-Corruption. Increasing the inclusion of female representatives in elected assemblies is an equitable and therefore desirable policy in itself and a valuable by-product may be the reduction of corruption in society. Numerous sources presented throughout this Module suggest that gender mainstreaming could play an effective role in decreasing corruption and improving perceptions of trust in government (Eggers, Vivyan and Wagner, 2018). Many aspects of gender mainstreaming, however, still require greater consideration. We need to better understand the role of women as politicians and how women work to advance an agenda that often includes improving public services and dismantling corrupt, male-dominated networks (Bauhr, Charron and Wängnerud, 2018; Merkle, 2018). We need to analyse how gender quotas and policies, which increase the proportion of women in parliament, might reduce corruption levels in certain contexts (Paweenawat, 2018).

Anti-corruption programmes should consider differences in gender exposure and vulnerability to corruption, while gender equality programmes would benefit from an anti-corruption lens. Gender-sensitive anti-corruption programming can address unresolved issues, such as reducing women's exposure to corruption. Thus far, most gender-sensitive anti-corruption initiatives have been initiated by civil society organizations, communities, and individual women at both grassroots level and in senior government positions ( Merkle, 2018). Approaches to tackle the direct and indirect gendered impacts of corruption may be found in UNODC's Strategy for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women 2018-2020.

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