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  • Writer's pictureKiely Barnard-Webster, CDA

How Might Gender Roles Affect Whether You Engage in, or Hold Back from, Corruption?

By Kiely Barnard-Webster

In this post Kiely Barnard-Webster explains two key takeaways for practitioners from our recent field visit to the DRC: (1) If an anti-corruption program threatens a gender group’s privileged status, this must be taken into account in the program design or it will undermine effectiveness. (2) If anti-corruption strategies don’t account for the different ways in which gender groups engage in corruption these strategies may not work.

Several weeks ago we challenged readers with a question that has been bothering the Kuleta Haki team since late 2015: “Is female discrimination in the justice sector corruption?”. We have to admit that based on our monitoring results, not many of you shared our interest! Let me take another stab at explaining why we care about this question.

In order to fully see how corruption works as a system, practitioners must understand how and why group norms (i.e., gender groups) might drive an individual in that group to engage or hold back from corruption.

We approached this project as an opportunity to conduct a gender analysis, analyzing different men’s and women’s roles in society (e.g., at home and in the workplace) and experiences with corruption, to better understand how corruption works within the criminal justice sector (CJS).

Earlier this summer, 2 consultants and 2 RCN J&D permanent staff held 87 interviews over the course of a 19-day field visit to help answer these questions:

  1. What are the gender power dynamics in the Lubumbashi courts?

  2. How are the experiences of corruption impacted by gender?

  3. How is one’s ability to resist affected by gendered experience?

In this post I will focus on points 1 and 2.

Why does an anti-corruption implementer need to think about gender?

Gender roles and power are closely linked. Often, gender roles convey a lot about who has control, power or influence and why, which is critical for several reasons:

  1. Corruption is the abuse of ‘power’ so knowing who has it and who does not is important in better understanding how corruption happens

  2. Also in thinking about resistance strategies, one needs to have a sense of what power is available, by who and how that resistance would play out.

If practitioners better understand: (a) the ways their anti-corruption project might make select participants unable to perform their gender roles, and (b) different gendered ways of engaging in corruption in each context, they may be able to develop better anti-corruption programming. Keep reading for some examples…

Two key takeaways for anti-corruption programming

We fully acknowledge that one cannot draw global lessons from one case study, particularly one that is as qualitative and contextually grounded as ours. Nonetheless, here are two of the most interesting takeaways relevant to practitioners, that arose during analysis discussions.

Takeaway 1: If an anti-corruption program threatens a gender group’s privileged status, this must be taken into account in the program design or it will undermine effectiveness.

We learned that when engaging in corruption, men expect to maintain their privileged position of control (e.g., over a situation, over resources); when this expectation is not met many experience frustration.

About half of the men in our research said that it was unfair that women can use their sex for personal advantage in a way in which men cannot. Some interviewees provided examples of this, in which a man would be ridiculed and turned away if he didn’t bring enough money to pay a bribe, whereas a woman without enough money could usually negotiate to pay with her body to get what she needed.

In our research, we also found that men are seen as “the boss” at home, and are also expected to be “the boss” at work. They are the boss in both places because they are expected to have a job to financially support their family. Men who feel they are being asked to give up corruption, perhaps seen as a privilege inherent in their status as an authority figure or a necessary means to provide for their families, may not acquiesce. Being corrupt can serve an important purpose to this gender group in the context, both socially and practically.

Do your efforts of stopping people from engaging in corruption fully account for what they feel they might lose, personally, aside from money?

Takeaway 2: If anti-corruption strategies don’t account for the different ways in which gender groups engage in corruption these strategies may not work.

For practitioners in this context, it’s flawed to assume different groupings (e.g. young professional men or senior women) engage in corruption always using a similar logic. Different gendered experience may mean some face greater risk than others at being caught, so will approach the process differently.

For example, our research showed women in Lubumbashi generally face greater consequences than men if caught engaging in ANY type of corruption. A murmur in our data suggested that, because of an increased risk of being caught, some female judicial actors might wait until approached to demand corruption, rather than ask outright for favors as many male colleagues do. During our validation workshop with our local Network this was seen to be true of female magistrates. Thus, a citizen trying to reduce their engagement in corruption might try the simple strategy of not stepping up to offer corruption to a female magistrate, if possible.

We also find it important to note we found that women will face much greater consequence (e.g.., more severe or frequent social shaming), when caught offering or otherwise engaging in sexual favors.

Do your efforts to create useful resistance strategies consider how men and women might differ in the ways they engage in corruption? Also, have you considered how public anti-corruption approaches might bring greater risk to one gender group over another? E.g.: A public approach could make women in public office more vulnerable in society than their male colleagues, potentially even causing harm (e.g., more women are left socially marginalized).

The ‘women as the fairer sex’ argument… We knew the ‘women are the fairer sex’ argument existed going into this project. This comes from (outdated) research which stated women may be less corrupt than men. Though during data collection, we were learning that women are widely expected to be the ‘guardian of values’ in Lubumbashi (meaning the upholder of moral and family values) and are expected to be, indeed, less corrupt. Further to our confusion, our data showed that most actors in this context engage in corruption. Which was right?!

Conversations with the Network added some nuance. We learned male and female judicial actors in positions of formal power may be equally corrupt. Although we found that men and women do not have equal access to formal power (e.g., becoming the “boss”), for one – as female judicial actors must defy expectations twice-over to excel in the judicial system, once any judicial actor is in such a position most felt they had similar levels of control over their subordinates. In Lubumbashi, the official hierarchy vests significant power into formalized positions creating the widely-held belief that obedience is required (mostly male and female justice actors held this view). Our research showed male and female judicial actors in positions of power could demand corruption equally (i.e., just as frequently, the same amount, etc.) when in these roles and would be obeyed.

Also, there are fewer women working in the justice sector than men; so, in absolute terms – yes, there are technically “fewer corrupt women than corrupt men” in the courts. However, if making a relative comparison, say if there were equal numbers of men and women in the courts, would there really be “fewer corrupt women than corrupt men”? Our research suggests…likely not.

“if my boss has a different opinion than me and he [or she] thinks that corruption isn’t that bad, then it can become difficult for me [to express my opinion, to resist.]” – Interviewee

Discrimination as a form of corruption: the end of a pursuit?

The research did not find explicit or causal linkages between discrimination of women and corruption; we concluded that these are two phenomena that are simultaneously occurring in the judiciary, and only at times interact.

For instance, there might be a link between the two phenomena (discrimination and corruption) when considering women’s limited access to formal power. Since the formal power system is not grounded in merit (for anyone, in fact), and women are doubly implicated because their gender is a multiplier of a crony based system, women are more likely to be removed from the opportunity to be corrupt since they are much less frequently put into positions of power. If this holds true; discrimination of women precludes them from positions of sufficient power where corruption opportunities would arise.


In our next post

In upcoming posts we’ll explore how different gender experiences affect notions of resistance and how resistance plays out. Do you have lessons to add about gender roles and corruption in a different context? If so, we would be delighted to hear them!

About this Article

This blog post was also shared on the Gender @ Fletcher blog, here.

Header photo: Renewal, or decline? akindo—Getty Images. Accessed here


This blog post, and greater research project, would not have been possible without the collaboration and dedication of the entire research team: Longin Baranyizigiye, Samantha Lakin, Patricia Mwela, Cheyanne Scharbatke-Church, and Grace Tshoma.


About the Author

Kiely Barnard-Webster is a Program Manager at CDA Collaborative Learning Projects, working on innovative approaches to tackling corruption in the DRC. She is also currently contributing to several different peacebuilding effectiveness and conflict sensitivity projects at CDA, as well as helping to support CDA’s office in Myanmar. Kiely focused her studies on gender analysis and DM&E at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.


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