Friday, 03 December 2021 15:42

Liberia: Gender and Corruption

By: Sam Z. Zota, Jr.

Corruption is defined as the abuse of entrusted power for private gain. It erodes trust, and exacerbates inequality, poverty, social division and the environmental crisis.[i] It also affects different genders, leaving marginalized groups mostly impacted. Women, youths, and the poor are often victims. 

International organizations have identified four (4) intertwined areas in which women are subjected to corruption: (i) when accessing basic services, markets, and credit; (ii) while engaging in politics; (iii) in situations where women’s rights are violated (e.g., trafficking and sexual extortion); and (iv) negligence and/or mismanagement – where women report poor service delivery   due to failure of leaders to hold accountable subordinates engaging in corruption.[ii]

According to the SIDA Gender Tool Box 2015, corruption in public service delivery affects women disproportionately more than men due to the higher vulnerability of women living in poverty and being responsible for the care of children and elderly. Women in some phases of life also have greater needs for health services, especially in their reproductive years. They require access to health care before and during pregnancy and after delivery. In these situations, women may be subjected to corruption, for example in the form of bribery, by health service providers at different stages of their health care needs. The State of Corruption Report (SCORE) 2021 released by the Center for Transparency and Accountability in Liberia (CENTAL) indicates that Sixty-five (65%) of females rated medical services as the service most prone to corruption. According to the report, Corruption in the health sector intensifies inequality, with poor people and other marginalized groups being hit the hardest. The SCORE further indicated that there remains a proliferation of fake and expired drugs on the market (Liberia Revenue Authority, 2020), with long queues at hospitals, inadequacy of hospital beds, shortage of medical supplies, and below par attention from caregivers affect bribe payments as patients seek medical care. At some public facilities, in addition to the cost of services, patients shoulder operational expenses such as electricity costs (CENTAL, 2021). And in the midst of these lapses, those in charge of regulating the sector have been implicated in corruption and self-dealing.

Furthermore, corruption shrinks public revenue, often cutting spending on education, healthcare, family benefits and other social services. This seriously undermines the welfare of women and children who rely mostly on such services provided by the state (SIDA Gender Tool Box, 2015). Recently, Foreign Minister Maxwell Kemayah admitted that a “black market” at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been responsible for hike in fees for services and failing to have collections reported to government revenue (The New Dawn, 2021). Not only is such dubious activity shrinking revenue, it is also hindering access to passport services.

The SCORE 2021 also found that Liberia’s national budget has been used as a tool to promote corruption. “State resources are being dispensed through the budget as a reward for political support. The national budget is also being used as a tool to foster what can only be called, however oxymoronically, legalized corruption”, the report stated.

Studies show that there is a broad consensus that corruption hits the poor and vulnerable groups the hardest, especially women, who represent a higher share of the world’s poor. Corruption also hinders progress towards gender equality and presents a barrier for women to gain full access to their civic, social and economic rights. In societies, like Liberia where women are traditionally the primary caretakers for their families, they are often dependent on public services like health or education. This makes them more vulnerable to certain types of bribery at the point of service delivery.[iii]

For women and girls to get access to basic services (education, health, water, sanitation, and electricity), documentation (licenses, residence and identity cards), and law enforcement, they may not only be forced to pay bribe, but are also exposed to sexual extortion. These acts often go unreported due to the stigma and shame associated with sexual crimes. This makes it difficult to monitor the nature and frequency of such corrupt practices. According to the SCORE 2021, 12 percent of Liberians indicated that they witnessed sextortion over the last 12 months. In this type of corruption, sex becomes the currency of the bribe and people are coerced into engaging in sexual acts in exchange for essential services, including health care and education.[iv]

Understanding the complex relationship between gender and corruption is therefore an essential step towards furthering women’s rights and eventually levelling the playing field between women and men.

Today, it is recognized that gender aspects influence and shape cultures across the world and feature in diverse areas of lives, ranging from religious teachings to the common bedtime story. Building upon this universality, corruption affects men and women differently across the world. In many societies as Liberia, women remain the primary caretakers of the family and are regularly confronted with corruption when providing these services. The reproductive needs of women make them particularly vulnerable in the health care sector.

But women are not only victims of corruption; they are also part of the solution. While evidence is inconclusive on whether women are less corrupt than men, greater women’s rights and participation in public life are associated with better governance and lower levels of corruption in many countries of the world. Empowering women and promoting their participation in public life is essential to address the gendered impacts of corruption and level gender power imbalances and inequalities. 

Gender inequality interferes with women’s ability to advance at all levels of politics and decision-making, thereby obstructing their access to political participation. Corruption also disrupts efforts to combat different forms of violations against women. Corruption tampers with justice systems and makes it difficult to drastically deal the violence against women. Perpetrators of violence against women continue to walk-away with impunity thereby undermining efforts to stem down on the crime.

Despite all odds, women still remain a part of the solution and have an important role to play in anti-corruption campaigns. They can contribute to improve accountability and integrity systems and build governance frameworks that are more responsive to their needs. Involving women in public life, including but not limited to anti-corruption and the design of gender responsive and gender sensitive anti-corruption policies is an important step in this direction. Indeed, we must all join hands to end all forms of violence against our women and girls now. Yes, we can; working together as ‘One People, One Nation and One Destiny!

 

[i] What is corruption? - Transparency.org

[ii] https://cdn.sida.se/publications/files/-gender-and-corruption.pdf

[iii] https://www.transparency.org/en/our-priorities/gender-and-corruption.

[iv] https://www.transparency.org/en/our-priorities/gender-and-corruption.

Read 8394 times Last modified on Friday, 03 December 2021 16:23

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