Corruption and education: the gender dimension

28 March 2023


Thai students raising their hands to answer questions with a teacher in front of the class

Marginalized populations typically shoulder the burden of corruption. In the education sector, this means there is often a gender component when it comes to both understanding and addressing the impacts of corruption.

At the Launch of the Regional Alliance of Women Leaders for Anti-Corruption and Integrity in Arab Countries, held in Amman, Jordan (19-20 March), IIEP’s expert on ethics and transparency, Muriel Poisson, took a closer look at what this means for the education sector.

Corruption risks with a gender lens 

At the system level, gender-specific corruption risks can manifest in many ways. For example, Poisson explained, that when there is a leakage of funds from the education system, women and girls are more likely to be impacted as they face higher poverty rates. 

Globally, an estimated 383 million women and girls are in extreme poverty, living on less than $1.90 a day, compared to 368 million men and boys. 

When there is corruption in procurement processes, school facilities – such as restrooms – can be negatively impacted, especially affecting the school experience of female students. It can also seep into the accessibility of textbooks, school meals, or other supplies, which is most damaging for students with fewer resources, said Poisson.

Gender-specific corruption risks are also apparent in cases of abuse of authority, either through sextortion or sexual harassment, thus limiting girls’ access to a safe education. 

Discrimination against the appointment and promotion of women among education management staff allows patriarchic education structures to prevail. In contrast, at the school or university level, discrimination or gatekeeping can reduce girls’ access to school and progression.

When it comes to informal payments for education, Poisson noted that recent research has identified gender biases on the amounts households spend on education – with more typically spent on male children’s scholastic opportunities.

When the line is crossed 

Corruption in education is diverse and can affect all levels of the system and administration. Ultimately, it erodes the foundation of quality education for all. 

To better understand what is at stake, IIEP has drawn up a typology of all the areas where corruption in the education sector can occur – and where the most vulnerable, poor, and marginalized are the ones that suffer the most. 

Understanding and tackling the gender and corruption nexus in education is key to reducing risks and protecting the most vulnerable learners."
- Muriel Poisson, team leader of knowledge management and mobilization, a.i., IIEP-UNESCO 

How to tackle corruption and minimize the gendered impact

First, it is crucial to recognize women as key players in anti-corruption strategies, not only because they make up an important proportion of the educational workforce, but because it can help promote gender equality in and through education. 

Women make up… 

  • 87% of trained teachers in primary education
  • 86% of trained teachers in secondary education
  • 44% of academic staff in tertiary education.

IIEP has gathered first-hand experiences of women at the forefront through its global exploration on the power of information in tackling corruption. For example, “Mother Gatherings” in Bangladesh have provided an important venue for discussing school-level data and information. In Ukraine, women have made contributions to online platforms dedicated to parental informal payments as part of an open government initiative, and in France, women act as scientific integrity referees in key research institutions. 

Second, there should be greater advocacy for disaggregated data to make sure that everyone counts, and that policies respond to specific gender needs and challenges. As part of this, Poisson explained that so far, most anti-corruption tools, strategies, or plans lack a gender lens – except for a few studies on teacher absenteeism or perception surveys related to academic fraud. 

Third, ethical values and professional standards – which are key to preventing corruption – can be transmitted through codes of conduct, which all members of the academic profession need to adhere to. Some values and standards related to non-discrimination, and prohibition of verbal and physical violence (including sexual harassment) directly refer to gender issues, and education systems can learn from experiences across the globe.

Lastly, it’s important to cultivate gender-sensitive whistleblower reporting and protection systems, as well as a victim-centered approach to encourage reporting persons to come forward.

Educational planning that puts gender responsiveness at its core can help foster a culture of ethics, transparency, and accountability. 

Learn more on IIEP’s dedicated ETICO platform.