Corruption through a gendered lens in Fiji

By Losana Tuiraviravi
Pacific Regional Coordinator
Transparency International

On 9 December each year, International Anti-Corruption Day coincides with the 16 days of activism against gender-based violence. This presents a timely opportunity to discuss the new report published by Transparency International, Corruption Through a Gender Lens, which examines the extent to which corruption in Asia Pacific is gendered and the interplay between gender inequality and corruption.

The report analyses the results of the Global Corruption Barometer (GCB) Asia and Pacific 2020 and 2021 by applying a gender lens. Covering 17 countries and territories, the Pacific survey provides a first of its kind data on sextortion, which occurs when those entrusted with power use it to sexually exploit those dependent on that power.

For the report, Transparency International organised focus group discussions in Cambodia, Fiji, Indonesia and Sri Lanka which reveal women face unique vulnerabilities to corruption, particularly in becoming victims of sextortion. Specifically, it shows marginalised women may be disproportionately targeted with such advances and less likely to challenge or report requests to engage in corruption. They are also seen as “easy targets” for bribery and experience more pressure to pay bribes or engage in sextortion on behalf of those they care for. Many of these victims are not aware that sextortion is a form of bribery and corruption.

The Fijian experience

In Fiji, findings from the report reveal agreement that sextortion’s roots lie in gender norms that encourage men to be “sexually charged” and to sexually objectify women.

Findings also show rural dwelling women in the county are disproportionately impacted by gender norms, which are entrenched in rural communities. This particularly affects women with disabilities who are excluded from speaking out. Rural women, perceived as more vulnerable, are easy targets for bribery, due to the assumption that they lack knowledge about their rights and entitlements. This perception extends to women in general compared to men, resulting in less awareness of their rights and limited ability to seek the information. The lack of adequate gender-responsive interventions by the government further hinders women in overcoming these obstacles. Therefore, it is crucial to implement targeted measures and promote awareness of women's rights and entitlements.

Discussions highlight issues related to gender and intersectionality. For example, women with disability noted they receive less respect from public officials compared to their able-bodied counterparts. Sex workers, particularly transgender ones, say they face disrespect from public officials and police, with reports of rape or other abuse often not taken seriously. As a result, they do not report these crimes.

An interesting result is that women tend to worry more about the impact on the families of corruption perpetrators if the wrongdoer faces punishment.  As a result, they may not report corruption. Insights like this in the Fijian context underscore the importance of engaging in specific discussions with local stakeholders – to understand diverse factors at play, like population size, geography, traditions and social norms. By doing so, interventions will be tailored to the unique dynamics of the country.

The report reveals gender inequality is not only exacerbated by corruption, but also frustrates anti-corruption efforts. The next step to understand and address the gendered impacts of corruption, including sextortion, is to collaborate with the regional gender equality movement.

To conclude, these are the policy recommendations drawn from the analysis and it is crucial to adapt them to the Fijian context:

  • Anti-corruption approaches need to become more sensitive to the experiences that women have with corruption.
  • Corruption reporting mechanisms should cater to how gender influences people’s willingness to report it and recognise the intersectional factors that act as barriers to justice.
  • Governments need to develop legal frameworks for sextortion, to facilitate the prosecution of cases and invest and allocate resources to victims of sextortion, as well as training to justice officials handling such cases.
  • Efforts should also be made to develop strategies to raise awareness about sextortion, challenge preconceived gender stereotypes and norms among the public and public officials and inform potential victims about their rights to services, access to information and corruption reporting channels.

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