An integrated approach could not only solve gender inequality & corruption but also reduce the disproportionate burden shared by women; assert Trishaljit Sethi & Priyanka Singh
The impact of corruption on the socio-political and economic development of any society has been chronicled well over time and cannot be over-emphasised. Much of the work on corruption so far has been done in a gender-neutral manner. The menace of corruption, the question of dealing with it and reducing its adverse impact on vulnerable sections of the society has so far been gender-blind. Women-inequality issues and corruption issues are being dealt with in separate silos, with little knowledge of linkage between the two. The G-20 Anti-Corruption Ministers Communique on October 22, 2020, has brought this issue to the fore, and as a way forward, welcomed potential future work on issues such as 'gender and corruption'. This welcome step would put the much-needed spotlight on the adversely impacted fragile gender-inequality state, globally as well in the Indian set-up.
Any correlation between corruption and gender — either as a victim or as a perpetrator — is a matter of debate. World Bank in its annual World Development Report 2012 had noted that female suffrage in the United States led policy makers to turn their attention towards child and maternal health, helping to lower infant mortality by 8 to 15 per cent. In India, giving power to women at the local level (through political quotas) led to an increase in the provisions of public goods (both female-preferred goods such as water and sanitation and male-preferred ones such as irrigation and schools). It also reduced corruption and increased reporting of crime against women as well as arrests. Bribes given by men and women in villages with a female leader were 2.7 to 3.2 per cent less than in villages with a male leader. Giving women a greater say in managing forests in India and Nepal significantly improved conservation outcomes. This presents sufficient evidence of a direct correlation between empowerment of women and reduction of corruption.
The recent developments in the G-20 Anti-Corruption Ministers Meeting indicate there is a growing awareness that more studies are needed to look at the issue from the gender perspective and help policy makers in devising appropriate gender-inclusive strategies. The World Bank's report of 2001, 'Engendering Development through Gender Equality in Rights, Resources and Voice' also observed that with more gender equality, countries tend to be less corrupt.
One of the most recent publications by the United Nations — aptly called 'The Time is Now' — addresses the gender dimension of corruption and stresses the need to act immediately. This December 2020 study by UNODC forays into the complex multi-layered subject and underlines the importance of understanding how national, cultural and social norms interact and shape corrupt practices. It also mentions that many of the gender dimensions of corruption are not sufficiently addressed. The study emphasises the importance of evidence-based policymaking and how gender equality policies can have a positive effect in preventing and countering corruption and vice versa.
Empirical studies suggest that companies with a greater number of women in decision-making positions perform better not only in terms of organisational and financial aspects but also in terms of ethics and corruption. Instead of creating anti-corruption programmes with a gender component, governments should consider integrating all corruption components into existing programmes targeting women.
There is also a need to develop a gender analysis of anti-corruption initiatives in criminal justice and capacity building by ensuring that human rights, anti-corruption and gender-specific training is imparted in institutions. At the same time, the institutional cooperation framework can also be improved with anti-corruption authorities.
A concerted effort needs to be made to strengthen accountability mechanisms by bringing greater gender diversity to institutions and changing the team dynamics. Improving inclusiveness within a given social environment and breaking the so-called 'closed circles' tends to reduce corruption. Sex balance is not the primary goal. The aim should be to bring in individuals who have been outsiders to power due to corrupt (and gendered) practices.
Ensuring women empowerment by promoting anti-corruption methods and strengthening integrity is required. There are examples of situations where the empowerment of women has reduced corruption. Women, earlier excluded from opportunities and jobs in Zimbabwe, were trained as rangers to patrol national parks and protect wildlife. Taking on this role, they gained greater responsibility and respect from their community, acting with integrity and being perceived as a role model against corruption in their community.
According to the UNDOC study, in the private sector also, corruption affects women entrepreneurs who have experienced petty corruption in informal trading and have a lack of knowledge on negotiating corrupt networks. This reduced their access to markets or credit and reinforced
economic and social marginalisation. For instance, land rights scenario and exploitation of land reveal that women are often not included or do not receive adequate compensation. Women can be key agents for change in the fight against corruption, a higher level of gender equality
and women participation in public life is associated with better governance and lower levels of corruption in many countries.
Men and women are not only affected differently by corruption, but women also have to pay a higher price when they found corrupt. They are more heavily criticised and penalised by the public than men.
In the patriarchal setting prevalent in most societies, women are already at a disadvantageous position. Conventionally, they are being treated differently. As a result, more often than not, women have no or little access to information, basic services like food, education, healthcare among others. This further leads to poor exposure, pushing them deeper into the inequality trap.
Additionally, women are also prone to facing sex extortion. Corruption may not only be in terms of bribe. In a woman's context, it may also be the abuse of official position to extract sexual favours from women. This further creates obstacles for women to exercise their basic rights on services and opportunities.
The need is to develop and adopt a gender-inclusive and gender-sensitive approach in all anti-corruption strategies. The government of India has taken many initiatives in this regard. flagship programmes like Ujjawala Scheme, Beti Padhao Beti Bachao, Mahila Shakti Kendra, Rashtriya Mahila Kosh and Digitization in Public Service Delivery are steps in this direction. Other schemes like Ujala, Saubhagya, Har Ghar Jal and Jan Dhan Yojna also aim in benefitting women; directly or indirectly. Recently, the Central Vigilance Commission has also taken note of the fact that the representation of women employees is very low in many Public Sector Undertakings. It constituted a committee to look into the issue and give recommendations on how to increase the intake of women in PSUs. Some PSUs are already taking proactive steps towards gender empowerment and are bringing measures to enhance the intake of women executives. This gender-sensitive approach towards improving vigilance administration will certainly help in the advancement of women and complement the efforts directed towards achieving gender equality and women's socio-economic empowerment.
Trishaljit is CVO NTPC and Priyanka is Director, Central Vigilance Commission. Views expressed are personal