One in every five people, usually women, in Latin America and the Caribbean have either direct or indirect experience of officials using their positions of power to demand sexual favours, according to a new survey.
The global barometer of corruption in Latin America and the Caribbean was published this week by Transparency International (TI).
"Sextortion" — the abuse of power to obtain sexual favour — is prevalent in Latin America partly due to inequality between men and women in politics and pay, the study said.
With the objective of showing how corruption affects the everyday lives of women, Delia Ferreira Rubio, president of TI told Euronews that this year, with the help of UN Women, they decided to include questions on sextortion — a phenomenon confirmed in 18 countries by the poll.
“When women are exposed to situations where they are required to pay a bribe, in many cases the bargaining chip is a sexual favour,” said Ferreira, who said that sextortion is the phenomenon “that many suspected was happening and that some societies had normalised.”
She added that with the publication of the survey, the taboo has been broken: “Now it is more visible and it’s starting to become a problem for governments to tackle.”
The survey, answered by more than 17,000 people in Latin America and the Caribbean, also showed that women are more exposed to bribery in the sectors of health and education.
“This has to do with the feminisation of poverty that makes women more dependent on state services,” said Ferreira, adding that another factor is the domestic roles assigned to Latin American women, which include caring for children and the elderly.
Other areas in which women are highly vulnerable to corruption in Latin America are within the police and the judiciary.
Ferreira said this is a big problem in a region where more than 2,000 women were murdered in 2018.
"When women are subject to this type of attack, they have to resort to the police and the justice system to defend their rights, and if these sectors are affected by corruption, we have double victimisation of women.”
Corruption doesn’t have a gender
The barometer's data was presented this week in Guatemala at an event called "Defining a data-driven agenda: The impact of corruption on women". Ferreira said the event also allowed participants to debate and demystify assumptions widely considered to be true.
One common misconception was that women are more honest than men, so putting women in charge of public institutions would make the levels of corruption go down, she said. "In Latin American countries, this correlation has never existed," she said. "There are countries that have a large number of women working in their legislative bodies, there have even been female presidents and vice-presidents, and yet they still have high levels of corruption."
Ferreira cited Guatemala and Argentina as examples of countries where there are a lot of female staff employed in public offices but where corruption is still rife. On the other side of the coin, countries like Chile and Uruguay have low numbers of women working in public offices and low corruption rates.
The president of TI said in order to understand the interaction between women and corruption, petty corruption needed to be analysed. She gave the example of a woman seeking a certain medicine or access to a hospital bed that had to enter into a "petty corrupt relationship" with a public official.
But when it comes to corruption overall, Ferreira said: "There is no gene that makes women more transparent than men."