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Are women less corrupt than men ?

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Since the publication of the second corruption in Nigeria survey conducted by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in December 2019, hardly any other question raised by the data was debated more passionately.

While, at that time, the findings seemed to suggest that women were significantly less likely than men to be requested for a bribe and to give in to such a request, it remained unclear whether these differences were simply yet another expression of gender inequalities characterizing Nigeria’s economic, social and political realities, or if there was more to it.

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Only a detailed gender analysis of the data would be able to answer this question. It is, thus, most fitting that one year later, as we are commemorating International Anti-Corruption Day 2020, thanks to the Gender and Corruption Report launched by UNODC this week, we can now confidently answer this question, and answer it affirmatively. Indeed, in Nigeria women are far less likely than men to engage in bribery whether it is in the person of the bribe giver or in the person of the public official soliciting the bribe.

The report clarifies that 35% of men and 24% of women who came into contact with a public official between July 2018 and June 2019 ended up being requested and, in most cases, paid a bribe. Consistent with what occurs in other countries, women seemed to experience corruption differently, and sometimes more drastically than men. Women, for example, were more likely to be confronted with corruption when interacting with the health sector, where often they have to grapple with the impossible choice between paying a bribe or not receiving treatment for themselves, their children, or elderly family members in their care.

Women, in particular young women and girls, are also subject to sextortion when their bodies become the means of payment. While the prevalence of this particularly insidious form of corruption was more complex to establish due to the related stigma, the report found enough evidence confirming the widespread nature of the phenomenon with close to 70% of the respondents, both women, and men, stating that sextortion was either very or fairly frequent.

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Most revealing, however, were the findings relating to the likelihood of male vs. female public officials engaging in bribe seeking behavior. Taking into account the existing gender gap in most public institutions, the data clearly indicated that female public officials are consistently, and often dramatically, less likely to engage in corruption than their male counterparts. Male police officers for example are five times more likely to take a bribe than their female colleagues, and male judges are six times more likely to take bribes than their female colleagues. While differences are less marked in public services where a large share of women are employed, they remain stark. For example, medical doctors, teachers, and lecturers are still approximately twice as likely to request bribes than their female colleagues. Interesting was also that services that employed a large number of women appeared overall comparatively less prone to corrupt practices.

Finally, the report provides insights into the different experiences of women and men when it comes to reporting cases of corruption. While both men and women in most cases shy away from reporting incidents of corruption, the reasons why they do so seem rather different. Existing complaints systems appear less accessible to women and, in some cases, discriminate against them. For example, women more frequently indicated that following their complaint, no formal procedure was initiated against the public official who had requested a bribe. They also were more likely to experience no follow up at all to their complaint and to suffer retaliation for lodging the complaint.

These findings have interesting policy implications. The core question emerging is how Government and society at large can employ most effectively the comparatively lower corruption prevalence of Nigerian women and girls in the fight against corruption.

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Certainly, the most pressing is to make sure that women enjoy equal access to existing complaints mechanisms. For that to happen, these complaints mechanisms need to become gender-sensitive. Also, specialized anti-corruption agencies in partnership with relevant women’s rights groups should develop specific initiatives to identify, investigate, and prosecute cases of sextortion.

Moreover, public sector institutions across all levels of government should establish and accelerate efforts to reach gender parity goals as this will not only help to achieve gender equality but also improve governance.

De facto, if there is one overarching takeaway from the study, then it is that gender-equality equals better governance. 

Dr Waziri-Azi is senior special assistant to the President on Rule of Law, Office of the Vice President and Associate Professor, Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies; and Dr. Stolpe is representative, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Nigeria (UNODC).

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