Gender and anti-corruption – combining two streams

Gender has been mainstreamed in donor programming for many years. In a similar fashion, there is a growing recognition of the importance of also mainstreaming anti-corruption.

We need a better understanding of the impact of corruption on women and men
(Photo: Stròlic Furlàn - Davide Gabino on

Little explicit thinking has however taken place on how to integrate gender into anti-corruption. Does gender affect levels of corruption and does applying a gender lens bring any benefits to anti-corruption aid? Sida and the U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre posed these questions during an open seminar in Stockholm on November 7th.

Women and men are not different

It is often argued that women are less corrupt than men. This assumption is based on findings that women tend to be more altruistic, risk averse and less trusting of strangers. The recommendation has therefore been that simply increasing the proportion of women in positions of power would lead to a decrease in corruption. While there is anecdotal evidence that for example in Latin America increasing the number of female traffic officers has decreased corruption, systematic research shows that context and opportunity rather than gender explain the attitudes of women and men towards corruption. That said, there is also no evidence to suggest that women are more corrupt than men, and pursuing gender parity in positions of power is an end in itself.

Women suffer more from corruption

Seminar participants agreed that it is more relevant to understand whether and how corruption impacts women and men differently, than whether men or women are more corrupt.

When officials request bribes for delivering services on health, education, water, and similar – there is more often a woman than a man at the other end, footing the bill. Poverty levels matter, too. Corruption deals a bigger blow to those with few resources: the segments of society dominated by women and children. Sexual favours and extortion is another area linked to “payment” for services where women are the most vulnerable party. Corruption in the police and the judiciary can maintain gender imbalances by failing to enforce laws that protect women.

As we look more at corruption through a gender lens, it is also important to avoid doing unintended harm. There is also potential for anti-corruption initiatives specifically worsening women’s situation. For example, women are often overrepresented in the informal sector, and imposing more regulation to curb corruption can have the unintended consequence of squeezing them out of their livelihoods.

Mainstreaming gender in anti-corruption allows us to target anti-corruption towards improving the lives of women. It was suggested that specific gender sensitive corruption indicators might be necessary.

Change is already happening

During the seminar, Sida shared that it already seeks to apply a gender focus to its anti-corruption work, although these efforts have not yet been explicit. A process is underway to document these practices and provide guidance for Sida staff.

The Department for International Development (DFID) shared that they now have to ensure all their work conforms with a recently adopted International Development (Gender Equality) Act. This means that there is a legal obligation to structure all aid in a way that promotes improved gender equality, also aid for anti-corruption interventions.

The way forward

The participants and U4 partners agreed that it is timely to do more research on gender and corruption. They suggested that the focus should be on better understanding the impact of corruption on women and men, and providing concrete recommendations on how this knowledge should inform anti-corruption programming. For example, considering how different groups and populations (defined by gender and other characteristics) engage to demand accountability and actively participate in decision making, as well as the power dynamics and imbalances (such as gender related) that underpin the social and political relationships embedded in the realities of government responsiveness and accountability.

These issues are part of U4’s current approach under the People’s Engagement theme. The existing experience in the area of gender mainstreaming offers many lessons, and in moving ahead with the research agenda under this and other themes U4 will draw on this experience.


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