LONDON (TrustLaw) – From the girl given in marriage as a bribe to an Afghan judge, to teachers demanding sex in exchange for school grades in Botswana, corruption disproportionately affects women and girls, experts told a women’s rights conference on Wednesday.
“It is not always cash, it’s a human bribe,” Sima Samar, chair of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, said at the Dec. 4 to 5 Trust Women conference.
She told the story of a girl who was given in marriage to a judge in Kabul, in exchange for her arrested father’s freedom. Her father was never released, and she suffered terrible abuse at the judge’s hands.
“Her life practically is destroyed and it’s all because of the corruption,” Samar said. The commission fought her cause, but the judge was never punished. He was simply moved to another district.
Aid workers sometimes demand sex in exchange for food packages, according to a U.N. report released earlier this year.
In Botswana, the majority of girls are sexually harassed by teachers, and a few have to give sex in order to get the grades that they deserve, according to the report.
“Women tend to be more reluctant to report corruption, especially if sexual exploitation is involved, because of the shame and stigma,” said Pascale Dubois, the sanctions evaluation and suspension officer for the World Bank.
Corruption is also the grease that facilitates crimes like human trafficking, she added. A long list of people turn a blind eye to trafficking in exchange for a bribe, among them corrupt police officers, health workers, NGO staff, border guards, lawyers, hotel staff and embassy personnel, Dubois said.
“If you’re talking about the trafficking of women and girls, you have corruption before, during and after trafficking,” she said.
The sheer number of women affected by corruption in their daily lives is grim. Women tend to be the poorest in society, and corruption affects the poorest the most, so corruption will affect women disproportionately, Dubois said.
“Basic services like water, electricity, health, education, food are often monopolies. If the monopolies are in the hands of corrupt individuals, you can see how women will tend to get less of these basic services,” she added.
CAN WOMEN END CORRUPTION?
A lack of data makes it difficult to draw conclusions on whether women in positions of power reduce corruption or not, and there is some evidence to show that they don’t, experts said.
But in certain circumstances women have managed to reduce corruption, Melanne Verveer, U.S. ambassador-at-large of global women’s issues, said.
When democracies are flourishing and there is stigma attached to corruption, women in public office can be effective in reducing corruption, she said.
In certain circumstances, women are less likely to demand bribes. In Peru, the government recruited more women as traffic police – one of the most corrupt sections of the country’s police force – and found a major drop in the number of bribes demanded as a result, Verveer said.
Women can also make a difference in local politics, she added. India, which has an enormous problem with corruption, now has more than 1 million women elected to local village councils. “Studies show this quota has led to a much more effective response by local governance to meet the needs of the people,” she said.
In these communities, resources are now going to improve the sanitation, education and health needs of locals, as opposed to being siphoned off into corrupt practices, Verveer said.
The World Bank’s Dubois said the main tool for fighting corruption is to let women know what their communities are supposed to be getting.
In Africa she found that if the women knew that their village was supposed to receive medicine or a new school or teachers, they would go to the village chief to ask where these things are. In most cases, as the primary care-givers, women will make sure they get these services, she said.
“Always, when I deal with women I am the most hopeful,” Dubois said. “It’s clear that women are the ones most disproportionately affected by corruption. To me women are the ones who are going to be the biggest solution.”