Corruption affects the lives of all citizens in Latin America — but women are disproportionately harmed, reports show. Gender-based corruption and unequal access to justice are prevalent despite growing public mobilisation and outrage.
Against this backdrop, experts from Latin America and the Caribbean got together on the last day of the 19th International Anti-Corruption Conference (IACC) to highlight links between corruption and gender inequality. The all-women panel discussed the legal aspects of gendered corruption as well as the need for systemic changes and social awareness on the issue.
Impunity and a lack of interest by the authorities were among the key problems emphasised by Estefania Medina of TOJIL, an organisation working on strategic litigation in cases of corruption and gender-based crimes. These types of crime share the problem that authorities rarely exhaust their investigative capacities, which means that perpetrators are often not held accountable.
Medina also highlighted that victims are sidelined in many cases: “Victims of gender crimes often suffer discrimination from prosecutors.” Medina reasoned that both the women’s rights and the anti-corruption agenda “should be focused on victim recognition.”
Natalie O’Brady from the Trinidad and Tobago Transparency Institute zoomed in on corruption and sextortion in the Caribbean context. Quoting the results of a survey done by Transparency International last year, she explained that sextortion, a gendered form of corruption where officials abuse their power to demand sexual favours, is the “exploitation of the most vulnerable members of society”.
O’Brady stressed the importance of youth training and advocacy programmes in ending gender-based violence, and described the annual launch of the Corruption Perceptions Index as an integral part of awareness-raising. She echoed Medina on the importance of victim recognition: “Surveys and indexes are important […] but we know that behind all these numbers, there are stories of victims, and that’s heartbreaking,” O’Brady said.
Luciana Torchiaro, a regional advisor at Transparency International, explained that sextortion sits at the intersection of anti-corruption and women’s rights and is an issue that Transparency International is dedicated to tackling. She sees lack of data as a major challenge in these efforts, and laid out the results of Transparency International’s 2019 Global Corruption Barometer for the region, which for the first time highlighted data on sextortion. Generating data helps generate awareness, Torchiaro explained, and is also important for legal advocacy campaigns: “If we don’t have a recognition of sextortion as a crime, it is very difficult to get proper prosecution,” she said.
Norma Ferrer reported on Transparencia Venezuela’s analysis of the country’s legal framework on sextortion and advocated for criminalising it throughout the region. While the panelists agreed on the significance of legal recognition, Medina pointed out that proper enforcement of existing rules is just as crucial.
In this context, Mariel Miranda of Transparencia Mexicana mentioned the idea of shifting enforcement away from mere punishment of perpetrators and towards reparations for victims.
She added that protecting women’s rights has become even harder in the current pandemic. “COVID has created a context that allowed violence against women to grow”, Miranda said.
In their outlook on the future of the fight against gender-based crimes and violence, panelists underlined the importance of community, solidarity and social consciousness as accompanying elements to systemic and legislative changes. “We have a lot of work to do to bring about awareness,” O’Bryan said.