The state of our democracy: why corruption is a ‘gendered’ issue [Part II]

In 2001, controversy linking gender and corruption became the burning issue in anti-corruption policy debate. Two sets of researchers published works that fuelled the great debate. Dollar et al published: “Are women really the ‘fairer’ sex? Corruption and women in government” and Swamy et al published “Gender and Corruption.” Both papers established statistically significant proof that women were less likely to be corrupt than men. Further, the authors validated utilising women as an anti-corruption tool based on their ‘scientifically proven’ incorruptibility.

The researchers were motivated by two cases: Mexico City’s police chief established an all-female force in a bid to tackle corruption amongst police officers (Washington Post, 1999) and in Lima, Peru, a similar strategy was being reported on by The Daily Telegraph (Swamy et al., 2001).

The OECD and other anti-corruption advocates termed these part of the ‘just add women and stir’ attitude that existed. The OECD Anti-Corruption Forum equated it with the act of placing women on public/private boards or other governance entities, which didn’t really deal with the problem and was at best a stop-gap.  

This, they argued, was not a rights-based approach — women’s equal participation in government, versus an “over-simplified strategy of infusing institutions with women as a corruption cure-all

The OECD Anti-Corruption Forum proposed instead a deeper analysis of how corruption, gender and other dimensions come together to affect women and men.  The Forum argued that in this way more effective policy measures would be developed that took into account and made provisions for the differences.

The Forum recommended that countries needed to have:

  • A rights-based approach to corruption;
  • A more nuanced and updated definition of gender;
  • A more inclusive notion of corruption;
  • A greater focus of the impact of corruption on gender.

As such they have developed a tool kit mapping out these steps, entitled “Gender and Corruption: A toolkit to address the ‘add women and stir’ myth”.

At the same time, anti-corruption advocates working with communities were becoming increasingly concerned about what was happening with women and girls.  In particular, writer-advocate Sarah Gitlin of the Global Anti-Corruption Blog points out as a matter for urgency, that the anti-corruption community needs to put greater emphasis on fighting sexual corruption around the world.

 

In Beyond Sextortion: How Corruption Uniquely Affects Women (2015), she informs us of several situations women and girls face. Yet, these multiple modalities of corruption need to be fully included in current definition by Transparency International [TI], the World Bank and others.

Sex Extortion or  ‘sextortion’ as it has been named by the International Association of Women Judges, involves exacting bribes or ‘payments [sex] for services’ such as: utilities; access to social, education and health services; land access and ownership; agricultural subsidies and extension programmes; affordable business loans; jobs, humanitarian services, among other issues.  

TI believes “the perception that women do not have the money to pay bribes may mean that they are not asked for payments. Instead, compensation may take the form of sexual favours.” Anti-corruption advocates believe this corrupt sexual exploitation often has a far greater adverse effect on victims than monetary corruption, not only because of the act itself — which can be extremely violent and is always a violation of personal dignity and human rights — but also because of the possibility of disease, pregnancy, and, all too frequently, social ostracization, victim blaming, and in some societies, loss of marriage prospects.

Some recorded situations include:

A teenage girl at a refugee camp goes to the camp administrator for the food, soap, and medicine she’s entitled to and needs for survival. He falsely tells her that “your name is not on the listbut, instead of demanding money — the classic corruption scenario — he demands sex and she has no choice but to comply.

Human Rights Watch last September (2016) found that sexual exploitation by peace-keeping soldiers in some countries is “routine and organised.” Refugees have reported that: “If you do not have a wife or a sister or a daughter to offer the NGO workers, it is hard to have access to aid.”

While many may see these as unusual situations, corrupt sexual extortion is not unknown, hypothetical, nor rare. Increasingly, young girls are being forced to have sex with teachers for grades; used as ‘sex collateral’ in ‘family agreements’’ with older men who are many times people in positions of trust and/public officials. This is also referred to as ‘transactional sex.’ Sadly, as both children’s advocates and the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) pointed out in various media presentations: religious leaders; police officers, and teachers, top the list of perpetuators.

Yet, Gilpin (2015) and others point out, despite occasional references to corrupt sexual exploitation by anti-corruption activists, most major anti-corruption groups have neglected this topic, focusing instead on monetary corruption. This is a mistake. The anti-corruption community should recognize sextortion and other forms of corrupt sexual coercion as a distinctive and devastating form of corruption, deserving of its own focus and accompanying recourse.

 

A Snapshot of The Jamaican Experience

 

In focus group discussions with about 20 young women and men [18-24] and young women [18-35] they mostly agree, that corruption is a process that seeks to take advantage of less powerful persons in the society. The ‘powerful’ are described as people who are/ people with the following:

  • Money to bribe and/or ‘buy’ people;
  • Key political, economic and / social connections  
  • Control access to key services, eg utilities, RGD services; access to key programmes, etc.
  • Bankers; educators, lawyers, politicians, dons, gang leaders, religious people, government ministers, prime minister, the police

 

When asked if they or someone they know had been in a situation that may qualify as corruption, these are some of the issues raised:

  • Most of the females indicated that they or other women they know had been in situations where a male employer had tried to demand sex from them in exchange for a job or after being in the job, had demanded from them sex before being paid;
  • Male teacher demanding sex in exchange for ‘private lessons’
  • Utility worker demanding sex before reconnecting service
  • Gang member wanting favours [carry gun/bullets] in exchange for family safety
  • Policeman wanting sex before arresting abusive spouse
  • Police want a ‘smalls’ or face ‘rough up’
  • Hospital orderly wanting payment so that the doctor would be seen that day even though the individual is almost at the front of the line
  • Mother had to pay ‘worker’ so file would be dealt with regarding sorting out records
  • Denied job due to home address
  • Classmate gets placement over others due to family connection although less qualified.

When asked, of males or females, who is more vulnerable to corruption, all responded females as (i) they control everything; and (ii) it’s easier to intimidate women due to men’s physical strength.  

All societies need to understand as Transparency International and other anti-corruption advocates contend, “sexual extortion is gender-based corruption” and that “corruption hits women hardest”.  The focus areas of emphasis in terms of how we deal with corruption also have to be in tandem with the lived experiences of the ‘victims’ of corruption.

Low income people, the majority of whom are women, are the most vulnerable as all studies globally have concluded. Overall, women and girls of varying backgrounds are effectively made more vulnerable to corruption due to sexual exploitation and their less powerful political, social and economic status in society.

 

In Part III we will look at what Jamaica is doing with regard to addressing corruption and how this measures up with what communities say are needs.

 

Joan Grant Cummings is a Gender & Development Practitioner

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