Latin American Region · Article · 30 November, 2018

Women suffer twice as much from corruption in Latin America

Article wrote by Anda Linda Solano -expert of EUROsociAL- and published (october, 2018) in section "Planeta Futuro" of the digital edition of El País (Spain)

In the Museum of the City of New York exhibition “Beyond Suffrage: A Century of New York Women in Politics”, we see a photograph of suffragettes in 1915, with signs that say: “Are politics dirty? Then call in the cleaning woman”. They sought the attention of other women to be considered as a voting force capable of cleaning up “corrupt politics”. The portrait evokes the question of whether women are less corrupt than men and, in that regard, what the impact of their participation in anti-corruption strategies is. The photo does not reflect the complexity of the problem, so I will now present several images to the reader to illustrate why it is said that women suffer corruption in Latin America doubly, to a greater extent and in a differentiated way, because of their gender.

At the end of the ’90s, there was an initial understanding of the relationship between gender and corruption, which was based on an essentialist approach: women are considered less corrupt than men for psychological or moral reasons. This conclusion is based on the correlation between high levels of women in parliaments and low levels of corruption. This statement, however, is not always seen to be true in the Latin American context, and there is no evidence of a causal relationship.

The feminisation of anti-corruption strategies, which is desirable to some extent, is not entirely positive in the long term. One of the reasons for this is that, as it perpetuates gender role stereotypes, it does not address the causes of the problem and it mainly leads to quantitative solutions. In addition, it can limit the development of women and generate differences based on inherent virtues, which hinders equal treatment.

What the image at the exhibition does not transmit is that corruption impacts differently, since it harms the most vulnerable groups to a greater degree. Women and girls are more affected, since they represent the largest proportion of the population living in poverty. Hence, corruption becomes an impediment to gender equality and female empowerment, which is a Sustainable Development Goal.

Now imagine another situation, a public university professor accused of asking for sexual favours in exchange for passing a student. Or the image of a woman reporting a judge who requested sexual relations in exchange for favouring her husband, who was being tried by the same judge. You can also imagine a policeman catching a woman stealing and telling her that he will not report her if she has sex with him.

Sexual abuse as currency

What do you see in these images? Possible crimes such as bribery, forms of sexual abuse, or both? These cases show situations of so-called petty corruption in which the currency of exchange is not money, but rather the provision of personal or sexual services. This phenomenon is seen when accessing services such as education, justice, health and various procedures in which women are more dependent, whether personally or as caregivers of their family. Let me now explain to the reader that there is no need for them to imagine, these are real women in real situations, real court decisions from Peru, disclosed during the event ‘The Relationship between Corruption and Gender – its effects on public administration’ (https: //

According to the 7th National Survey on perceptions of corruption in Peru, 68% of respondents believed that if a woman asked for a bribe, it is more likely to be money; only 4% responded that a woman would request sexual favours. If a man asks for a bribe, 62% believe he would request money, followed by sexual favours which was the response given by 52% or respondents. The problem is, to a large extent, buried, because not all countries process these cases as corruption. In Guatemala, for example, the same situation could possibly be understood as a crime against women. On the other hand, in these judgments from Peru, the victims are not compensated for the damage; which, to a certain extent, makes the crime against women component invisible. Crime is not always understood comprehensively as a manifestation of corruption that affects the female gender differently.

The following images show us some girls forced by the owner of the bar where they ‘work’ to have sex with police officers, as part of the payment for facilitating the operation of the trafficking network. The other snapshot is of prison guards who allowed girls and women to enter and be exploited sexually by leaders of a criminal organisation. The agents received bribes. The case ended up in the femicide unit, because, while resisting, a minor was dismembered and her body burned. These are also real faces, the first case was tried in Guatemala, the location of the second case is not specified as it is an ongoing investigation. In these situations, corruption facilitates the perpetration of other crimes, such as human trafficking, that affect a third party outside the corrupt relationship. Women are the main victims in cases of trafficking in persons for the purpose of sexual exploitation.

Corruption creates opportunities for organised crime that intensify violence against women and impede, among other things, their political participation. According to UN reports, in countries such as Afghanistan, Guinea, Kenya, Philippines and Zambia, women have suffered rape, physical violence, kidnappings and even death by criminal organisations associated with corrupt agents to prevent them participating in politics. This situation is not unknown in Latin America.

One last photo on this journey is that of a woman who was offered access to social programmes in exchange for her vote for a particular party, one of the ways in which patronage or corruption affects women’s political participation.

Coordinated strategies against a regional problem

We must reveal the differentiated effects that corruption has in order to illustrate a regional reality that needs to be treated. This is precisely the aim of an action by the European Union Cooperation Programme for Social Cohesion in Latin America EUROsociAL+, which seeks to promote the application of the gender approach in anti-corruption strategies (link), in line with the conclusions of the recent 8th Summit of the Americas, in which it was agreed to “promote gender equity and equality and the empowerment of women as a transversal objective of our anti-corruption policies”.

To advance along this route it is necessary to overcome the idea that women are less corrupt than men for essentialist reasons. Communication, awareness-raising and education strategies should be developed that make visible the manifestations of corruption that impact women and girls. It is also necessary to generate data with a gender focus that allows the dimensioning of the problem in the context of Latin America.

It is a priority to encourage the reporting and identification of cases of bribery and influence peddling in which the currency of payment, in addition to money, is favours of a sexual or other nature, where the principal victims are women. This implies reviewing the criminal policy of the countries in question and studying the classification and processing of sexual extortion as a crime of corruption.

Finally, the problem should be included in the discussions and action plans of groups such as the C20, G20 and W20, while seeking to link Sustainable Development Goal 16, on the achievement of peace, justice and solid institutions, and Sustainable Development Goal 5, on gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Ana Linda Solano López is a consultant for the EUROsociAL+ programme on corruption and gender issues

Pais: Latin American Region
ODS: Gender equality, Peace, justice and strong institutions
Área de Políticas: Gender equality policies
Tipo: Article