2020 should have been the year we celebrated the 25th anniversary of one of the most visionary agendas for women’s rights and empowerment: the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, rather than recognizing this as the year of the COVID-19 pandemic.
One of the reasons why the small advances achieved in the past decades on gender equality are at risk of being rolled back is the destructive consequences of COVID-19. This is made worse by the failure of several nations, in reaction to the pandemic, to promote gender-sensitive measures. Corruption is expected to worsen gender inequalities, fuelled by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some types of corruption disproportionately impact women even in times less exceptional than this. Recent studies have released disaggregated data on the effect that corruption has on women. In Latin America and the Caribbean, for example, latest surveys have shown that a majority of people in many countries agree that men’s anti-corruption grievances are more likely to result in intervention than women’s. Furthermore, women are less likely to be aware of their right to request information from public institutions, a human right and a weapon to combat corruption.
While the effect of corruption on women has become increasingly prominent on the global agenda and some high-level commitments have been made on this issue, there is plenty of room for improvement. Transparency International’s recent report offers some ideas about how countries especially those that are members of the Open Government Partnership (OGP), can begin to address the effect that corruption has on women.
Mainstream gender into anti-corruption strategies and frameworks
Governments may make an important difference by developing and enforcing public policies with a gender perspective. Policies should be established in collaboration with civil society, the private sector, trade unions and other stakeholders and include common anti-corruption components.
The integration of women in policies, structures and action plans to tackle corruption is important.
A critical, and frequently missing, part is ensuring that we have the evidence for our acts. Collecting, analyzing and disseminating gender-disaggregated data on public service delivery and corruption, including sextortion, a type of coercion in which sex is the currency of bribery, is essential to success.
As is, timely access to appropriate, reliable and up-to-date information to plan, enforce and track successful public policies and to better inte gender intgrate anti-corruption policies.
Collecting gender-disaggregated information on citizen access to public services and social initiatives, concentrating on sectors where women are traditionally the focal point, and on public services explicitly targeted at women, is important if governments are to have a large impact.
This involves identifying and resolving sextortion as a form of corruption, and ensuring that the justice system can efficiently receive, investigate and prosecute women’s grievances.
Latest studies from Latin America, the Caribbean and MENA have shown that one in five people meets or knows someone who has sextortion while using government services. This is intolerable and must be brought to an end once and for all. It is time for governments to acknowledge sex torture as a unique crime and to shift their approach to combating it at various levels.
As a beginning point, governments may legally describe sextortion as a crime with a component of corruption and sexual assault. Specific criminal penalties should be enforced and trained gender-sensitive law-enforcement officials and attorneys could be assigned to receive and prosecute sextortion cases.
Support the participation of women in public and political life
Political and public engagement is a fundamental human right, but women have less opportunity to engage in both, increasingly relying on men’s policies designed to meet their unique needs. Diversity and equal representation of different social groups in public and political life is an essential condition for responsive and accountable public institutions.
The threats to gender equality posed, not only by COVID-19, but also by corruption, require urgent action. While commitments and promises are a starting point, they are merely empty words if not translated into clear action.