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The impact of corruption on women, strategies for change

Photo courtesy of Transparency International via YouTubeThis post — Part 1 of a three-part series — reviews some statistics on women’s experience with corruption — as reported by women in eight developing countries — and considers some reasons for the disparate impact on them.

Parts 2 and 3 will explore strategies that can help reduce women’s experience with corruption, from business regulations and local safeguards to women’s representation in government bodies.


Corruption is not restricted to any geographical location or industry — but it has some specifically wrenching consequences for those who wield little power, such as women in male-dominated societies.

An October 2012 United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) survey of women’s perspectives on corruption revealed both how women interpret corruption and have been affected by it, particularly in developing countries.

The study focused on eight countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia, and solicited responses from 471 respondents — 392 women and 79 men.

The respondents interpreted “corruption” to mean the giving or taking of bribes, physical abuse, lack of access to food and other basic supplies, and a lack of access to essential information and employment.

The survey findings included: 

  • Women’s experience of corruption is concentrated in the realm of public-sector delivery. Poor women often interface with public agencies to get basic services for their families, and 39% of women reported having to pay a bribe to receive them.
  • Women said the service area or agency they perceived as most corrupt was their local police (20%). Coming in second, local governments were labeled most corrupt by 11% of women. UNDP said this likely means anti-corruption initiatives being implemented in some regions on the federal level are not trickling down to communities.
  • Bribery was the activity women most associated with the term “corruption,” with 63% of women reporting they have been asked to pay a bribe, typically to gain access to public goods and services (39%).

The UNDP authors said women in developing countries largely work in the “informal economy,” in jobs at the grassroots level, so they are particularly subject to requests for bribery to acquire licenses or work supplies, or obtain a small-business loan.

In the survey, 16% of the women said they had to pay a bribe to gain access to the official documents they needed to work, put their kids in school or use banking services, such as birth certificates, proof of income or marriage licenses.

When asked what they thought would contribute to a more just society, 83% of women thought “women leaders could provide leadership that is more responsive to grassroots communities and less subject to corruption.”

Of those women who pushed back against corruption in their societies, harnessing the media (27%) was the most popular strategy to publicly expose instances of corruption.

Part 2 will explore strategies to ensure women are benefiting from anti-corruption measures — from the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (adopted in 2003 with 144 state signatories) to the increasing number of national laws criminalizing bribery, fraud, and money laundering.


Julie DiMauro is the executive editor of FCPA Blog and can be reached here.

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