Why do I have to?10 min read

Rwanda’s zero tolerance for corruption has put the country on the global stage.

However, the country’s ambitious campaign against graft and doctoring in public finance and management is being undermined by one hard-to-fight type of corruption: sexual corruption, which is happening largely within the private sector and threatening its growth.

Accelerator 4 Sexual Corruption-3

Text >> Ignatius Ssuna

Agnes, a former district executive secretary whose last name has been withheld to protect her identity, was stopped by the district’s guards as she tried to enter her office in July 2014.The district leadership accused her of refusing to pay debts the district owed to various private service providers, and ultimately passed a vote of no confidence, firing Agnes over alleged incompetence.

Agnes, however, has a different story to tell. She says her trouble arose from her refusal to be in a relationship with her boss, and that the reasoning that she was incompetent was a cover up. “I told my boss this could not work out because I was married in the first place,” Agnes said in an interview. But according to Agnes, her boss didn’t care.

After her dismissal, Agnes petitioned the Public Service Commission and the Office of the Ombudsman to intervene so that she might be reinstated. Findings from the Office of the Ombudsman indicate that Agnes had been harassed by her boss, and the Ombudsman’s spokesperson, Jean Nkurunziza, mentioned that there had been a recommendation that action be taken against him. However, Agnes’s boss was never reprimanded. “My experience shows that many female employees are suffering, and this doesn’t even account for those who cannot speak out openly,” Agnes said.

A criminal epidemic

Rwanda has made gains in advancing women’s empowerment and gender equality, and is praised as a role model: women constitute over 60% of the legislature, and conditions to encourage more women to occupy senior positions are provided for legally. The recent Global Gender Gap Report 2015 ranked Rwanda sixth in closing gender gaps in the world, coming after the Nordic countries of Iceland, Norway, Finland and Sweden, plus Ireland. The study took into account factors like economic opportunity, education, political empowerment, and health. According to the report, in Sub-Saharan Africa, only Rwanda (6), Namibia (16), and South Africa (17) made it into the top 20 of the index.

Female dominance in the legislature and the legal and political protections offered to them in practice, however, mean little at many work places in the country, and even less within the private sector. Cases of sexual corruption – access to undue advantages and the deprivation of advantages that one is entitled to based on demand for sex or sexual favours – underscore concerns that organisations do not benefit from the best talent, as this practice significantly undermines the recruitment process. The skewing of the labour market – especially the portion of the labour market made up of young women – has the potential of depriving the country of an entire cohort of bright young workers, and taking away their role in contributing to the country’s economic development.

A recent report by Transparency Rwanda, a local chapter of the global anticorruption watchdog Transparency International (TI), indicates that 58.3% of interviewees think gender-based corruption (as Transparency Rwanda calls it) exists within the private sector, and 51.4% and 43.1% within the public sector and civil society, respectively. The study also stated that victims of sexual corruption are mainly women; among job seekers who had experienced gender-based corruption, 84.5% were women. Perpetrators are men 83.2% of the time, with most of them being persons in senior positions. According to the study, 5% of respondents personally experienced gender-based corruption in workplaces, 10% perceive that the problem exists, and nearly 20% know someone who has been a victim. The report also states, “only 5.6% of victims reported the cases they encountered to the police or the Ombudsman, with the fear of creating problems for themselves being the main reason why victims do not report (47.3%).”

However, cases that involve the dismissal of female employees for reasons other than their professional merit are many. “But some female employees, due to poverty and responsibilities, end up sleeping with these men,” says a source from the Public Service Commission. Interviews with victims indicate that in many cases, those who harass women are powerful and connected to influential networks.

Stella, a 23 year-old IT graduate, said her boss shocked her by trying to recruit her to be his girlfriend. “The boss said he wanted a girlfriend to live with him,” she recalled. “The proposal made me mad – I was looking for a job only.”

Stella said the next day, the man called her to say that he was impressed by her performance. The boss offered her a job as the director of corporate communications with a salary of Rwf 600,000 per month. The company would also sponsor her to pursue her masters degree. She started work in October last year, explaining that, almost as soon as she started, the boss tried to buy her clothing, his excuse being that she was “representing an important company” in the country and needed to dress “properly”.

When they went on a business trip to Ghana last year, Stella recalled how shocked she felt when she learned that the boss had only booked one room for the two of them. She said he started kissing her and tried to convince her to have sex with him – without a condom. “I was never attracted to him. I wanted him to act like a normal boss,” she stated.

When the boss learnt she had a boyfriend, and because he didn’t manage to have his way with her, he was furious and eventually fired her. She reported the case to the office of the Ombudsman but she says she was never helped.

In 2014, there were 706 reported sexual harassment cases in the Ombudsman’s office alone; there is no clear data on how the cases were handled.

Killing talent

Lawmaker Alphonsine Mukarugema, Deputy Chairperson of the Standing Committee on Social Affairs, agrees that reports from the Public Service Commission coming to parliament show that gender-based corruption is on the rise in the country, and that the problem remains a largely ignored phenomenon.

“The practice affects the country’s private sector growth and economic transformation in general,” she says, also mentioning that the practice of using sex as a part of the hiring process does not allow organisations to leverage a competitive process to find the best talent.

“When employees, not treated on merit, or women are fired for refusing to sleep with men, this kills talent,” explains Mukarugema. “Where there is no talent, there is no innovation, service delivery is poor, and this negatively impacts the economy.”

The world today runs on competition, and being innovative is a key factor for success in business. “But how can a private sector survive if better brains are not accommodated and women are demoted unfairly?” Mukarugema wondered.

Marie Immaculée Ingabire, the Chairperson of Transparency, says that although it is often assumed that gender-based corruption has no serious negative impact on the labour market, there is evidence that the practice affects work outcomes. “It kills rational judgment, especially if it is between the supervisor and a junior – which is normally the case,” Ingabire said in an interview.

She says findings also show that workplace sexual harassment is responsible for psychological factors such as stress and depression, which results in a decline in employee performance and productivity. “It affects private sector growth because it kills career growth; people do not get promotions as a result of performance, but because of favouritism occasioned by a certain ‘relationship’,” she says.

Legal protection?

“In Rwanda, there are laws for the protection of women from sexual harassment. These laws are not properly enforced,” says John Kimanuka, a human rights lawyer.

Sexual corruption is punishable by Articles 12 and 16 of Law No. 23/2003 Related to the Punishment of Corruption and Related Offences in Rwanda. The law states that any person who explicitly or implicitly demands sexual acts or who accepts or promises sexual acts in exchange for duties can be given a sentence of up to ten years’ imprisonment and a fine ranging from Rwf 50, 000 to Rwf 1million.

However, according to Albert Rwego, Program Manager at Transparency Rwanda, these laws cannot be properly enforced due to difficulty in producing enough evidence that is beyond doubt to bring cases to court.

“Courts want evidence like whether the man was caught-red-handed sleeping with these women, which is hard to produce, or DNA tests,” Rwego said in an interview. He said TI was working with APNAC, a network of African Parliamentarians that aim at involving parliamentarians in the fight against all forms of corruption. “We would like to see the law that requires that a man must have been arrested red-handed to be reviewed because that type of evidence is hard to get,” says Rwego.

Rwego says that there is a huge increase of sexual corruption in the country, but a lack of proper legal instruments to condemn it. A source from Public Service Commission says recruitment remains the main entry point for this form of corruption, and unsurprisingly, women are the main victims of gender-based corruption in work places, while men in decision making positions are the main perpetrators.

A female nurse (whose name we have chosen to withhold) recently told the office of the Ombudsman that she was asked to offer sexual favours before she could be offered a well-paid job. “Someone in a position of authority promised to pay me Rwf 150,000 in monthly salary but I declined since the condition was to sleep with him to get that job,” the nurse told the office of the Ombudsman.

A Catch-22

Jean Nkurunziza, Spokesperson of the Office of Ombudsman, says the war against this kind of corruption is undermined partly by the victims themselves who decide to maintain silence when more questions are sought during investigations. “We recognize the fact that some employees are sexually harassed, but sometimes, they don’t cooperate in giving more necessary information and in the end, we lack evidence and prosecuting the culprits becomes hard,” Nkurunziza said.

Jean Rucibigango, an MP, urged institutions to play a role in the fight against such behaviour, but agreed that victims needed to come forward in order for this to happen. “It is a big issue that requires a collective responsibility, but the victims must be willing to name and shame the culprits in order to curb the vice,” Rucibigango said.

And Executive Secretary of the Public Service Commision, Angelina Muganza, agrees that it’s hard to fight since both violators and victims make efforts to conceal the information.

It’s a catch-22. On one hand, victims frequently remain silent in order to avoid the potential repercussions of reporting the crime. On the other hand, legal processes render it difficult to actually charge somebody for sexual corruption. On top of that, there is a blame game being played, where the onus is on victims, who – because they do not come forward – are held responsible for the perpetuation of the problem.

So what can be done?

“Women as the main victims, the private sector as the most affected, recruitment and salary policies as the main entry points, and low reporting: our study presents a clear agenda of priority actions to be taken to fight gender-based corruption in workplaces,” Apollinaire Mupiganyi, Transparency Rwanda’s Executive Secretary said.

Victims are too often unfairly blamed simply because they prefer not to report the crime against them, to avoid having their names exposed, and to avoid the undeserved stigma. Because of weak legislation that requires those who have experienced sexual corruption to provide ironclad evidence of the crime against them, however, the journey towards an environment free of sexual corruption won’t be easy to achieve, and this is a huge problem.


 Accelerator 4 Sexual Corruption


It’s a catch-22. On one hand, victims frequently remain silent in order to avoid the potential repercussions of reporting the crime. On the other hand, legal processes render it difficult to actually charge somebody for sexual corruption. On top of that, there is a blame game being played, where the onus is on victims, who – because they do not come forward – are held responsible for the perpetuation of the problem.





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