The gendered impact of corruption

Irrespective of whether women are more or less corrupt than men, they experience corruption in different ways than men, due to power imbalances and to the difference in participation in public versus domestic life. In addition, women (particularly poor women) often have fewer resources to use informal payments to access services or circles of influence and can be more frequently “denied” access to services because of their inability to pay bribes.

Gendered impact of corruption at the point of service delivery

As women tend to have a weaker voice to demand accountability, they can also become easier targets for corruption as they are less aware of their rights and less likely to report abuse. On the other hand, men tend to be more often in positions of power and have more opportunities to abuse their position for their own benefit. A number of studies show that men tend to see corruption in a more positive light than women, providing the opportunity to supplement one’s income and to potentially become rich[1]. Studies also show that women are more likely than men to feel that their lives are affected by corruption in a negative way[2].

As women constitute the vast majority of people living in poverty, they are more affected by the vicious cycle that corruption creates for disadvantaged people[3]. As primary caretakers of their families, women are more dependent on public service provision, including healthcare and education, which makes them more vulnerable to extortion at the point of service delivery. As they lack resources to seek private alternatives, they are also primarily exposed to the devastating impact of corruption on the quality and quantity of public services[4]. Indeed, many women report the public service sector as the most corrupt part of the government. While women are likely to be more frequently in contact with schools and medical facilities, men are more frequently in contact with certain sectors, such as traffic police and registration authorities[5]

Gender specific forms of corruption

There are also gender specific forms of corruption which are disproportionately experienced by women, such as sexual extortion. The phenomenon of “sextortion”, where sexual favours are used as a currency for corrupt practices, has gained prominence in recent years:[6] women can be forced to perform sexual favours in exchange for services. These are forms of corruption that are not always recognised as corruption and even less likely to be reported, due to a culture of shaming and victim blaming.

Gender perspective on seeking redress for corruption

In many developing countries, women’s lack of political and economic leverage as well as lower levels of literacy and awareness of their rights and entitlements reduce their ability to demand accountability.

Although women tend to condemn corrupt behaviour more than men, they report corruption less often than men, as confirmed by Transparency International’s Global Corruption Barometer data , because they are more afraid of the consequences. Especially in the case of sexual extortion, this can be attributed to a culture of shaming and victim blaming in many countries. Women also often lack the necessary knowledge or means to report corruption or to file a complaint on the lack or quality of public service provided[7].

Corrupt law enforcement is likely to undermine women’s rights when bribes are used to protect the perpetrators of criminal acts against women from prosecution (such as rapists, sex traffickers, or abusive spouses and employers)[8]. Corruption may also create additional obstacles for women seeking redress: a corrupt judiciary implies a lack of access to justice for women, whose cases are often not processed or decided against them if the defendant has power, wealth or connections. In particular, case studies conducted in Uganda found that women had a common concern around limited access to justice in the police handling of cases of rape, defilement and domestic violence[9]. As a response, women often find alternative solutions to public service and settle disputes outside the official system instead of contacting authorities.

Corruption and women’s access to public and political life

There is a growing body of research showing that corruption prevents women from getting into high-level posts in politics and business[10]. Corruption and bad governance have a negative effect on women’s participation in politics, trapping women in the vicious circle of gender inequalities, lack of empowerment and corruption[11]. Research in 18 European countries shows that corruption, clientelism and political networking have a negative impact on the proportion of elected women in local councils, further reducing the opportunities for women’s political participation.

This is also true for women’s participation in business and economic life. Corruption also affects women's access to employment, credit and other financial services, creating additional obstacles on their path to economic empowerment. Women often face major discriminations in their countries, which are exacerbated when a society is corruption ridden. With institutions already restricted for women and promotion related to personal connections rather than merit, there are fewer opportunities for women to access decision-making circles in governments and companies[12].


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