How does open company data impact women’s rights?

That might sound like an absurd question. The benefits accrued from transparency, fighting corruption and money laundering, and enabling good business practise help everyone, right? Then why am I writing about women?

At OpenCorporates and OpenOwnership, we’ve been thinking about the structures that enable corruption that the macro and micro level. Whether it is underlying socio-economic issues such as weak rule of law, poverty, authoritarianism, lack of regulation and of course opacity — it’s not a short list.

Today, at the OECD, I have the pleasure of talking about the gendered impact of corruption and how open technology and open company data can help fight it.


Last year, I wrote about how corruption affects all, but affects disadvantaged women the worst, in both high- and low-income countries. For too long, the analysis of the the effects have not been intersectional; it has not taken the issues of race, power, privilege and gender into account but thanks to research by organisations like AWID, Tax Justice, Transparency International and UNDP, this is changing.

A startling report by ONE calculated that one trillion dollars go missing every year from developing countries due to corruption, money laundering and illegal tax evasion. Loss in state funds due to corruption reduces government resources for social services and this burden is then passed on to citizens, hitting the poorest and marginalised in our society the worst. This turns out to be poor women often from marginalised communities.


“Women’s relative lack of political and economic leverage reduces their ability to demand accountability or to highlight their specific experiences of and concerns about corruption… Building public accountability and governance systems that are responsive to women’s needs is important to reducing the gendered impacts of corruption” — UNDP, Report


Policies that establish stable rule of law, social and gender equality, reduces poverty and unemployment and increases trust in justice and political systems are all crucial in tackling corruption but this post is not going to be about it. What I’m going to talk to you about is the cutting-edge solutions powered by technology and data that can help fight the battle against corruption.

But before we get into that… let’s look at how corruptions hurts the most disadvantaged women the most:

  • Corruption erodes public service budgets: Women represent majority of the world’s poor and they’re often reliant on public services which is why they are hit the hardest when corruption depletes the amount of resources available to those services. (Schimmel and Pech, 2004; Khadiagala, 2001).
  • Lack of agency: Where bribes are required to access services, rights and resources, women’s weaker access and control of personal resources means they are more frequently denied access to these services (Nyamu-Musembi, 2007).
  • Unfair tax burden and reduced labour rights: Globally, women spend 2.5 times more of their time on unpaid care and domestic work than men and are paid 24 per cent less than men. This means women work more, get paid less and get taxed double. A report commissioned by UNDP on 8 developing countries in 2012 showed that corruption had a significant negative impact on women’s participation in the labour market (formal or informal), in getting their children admitted in schools, protesting physical abuse against family members, enlisting in government subsidised programmes and participating in elections.
  • Gender power and race: An often unseen privilege is race. Poor people, or women are often portrayed as a homogenous group. They might have similar struggles but the harsh realities of how things like race can have a dramatic impact on access to services and opportunities. For instance, the conviction rate for rape cases brought by Dalit women stands at an appallingly low 2 per cent as compared to 24 per cent for women in general. In the US, a report by the Center for Reproductive Rights calculated that black women died in childbirth three to four times more often than their white counterparts over between 1990 and 2013.
  • Sextortion: All over the world, women are disproportionately affected by corruption in accessing public services to go about their daily lives. In interacting with their male counterparts, sexual favours are demanded as a form of bribe, with or without first being confronted with a demand for a monetary bribe. For a long time, sextortion wasn’t even considered an incident of corruption by governments and policymakers.
  • Low literacy means less awareness of rights: Women’s statistically lower literacy levels often result in lack of awareness of rights and benefits available to them, leaving them more vulnerable to extortion and ‘abuse of laws’.(UNDP).
  • Human trafficking: Up to 800 000 people are trafficked internationally every year. Corruption is often an enabler in this practice as payments need to be made to dishonest immigration officers in order to cross borders illegally and to local police so that they will turn a blind eye.
  • Forced labour: Estimated global total of people in modern slavery ranges from 21 million to 45.8 million. For forced and bonded labour to flourish, corruption facilitates securing licenses, fraudulently recording payroll and recruiting, transporting and controlling people.


Corruption is a complex problems and there are no easy solutions.


In many parts of the world, women simply do not know how to get access to their basic rights, and if they do, the loss of trust in public institutions mean they are less likely to demand it. This is one of the reasons that open and free/subsidised access to internet is so important: to captures the stories of women’s experiences, for women to demand justice, and have access to data and information without any gatekeepers (which for decades have been patriarchial institutions) to hold governments accountable. The work I’m involved in through Chayn, EmpowerHack and OpenHeroines helps empower women to learn about their rights, and find supportive online and offline spaces to fight back against injustice.


The world we live in increasingly influenced by corporations; especially the murky world of money in politics.


And the work we’ve been doing at OpenCorporates and OpenOwnership to open up company information, has helped target corruption by increasing the risks of lying in public.

Most companies are created and operated for legitimate economic activity yet there is a small percentage that doesn’t, and that disparity between the large number of legitimate companies and the small number of criminal ones is what makes it so easy for criminal companies to get away undetected, hurting business and society alike.


To even begin to hold someone accountable, you need to know who that person or organisation is. And that’s where open company data comes in. Whether you’re a corruption fighter, or an investigator, an employee or supplier, it’s critical to know the companies you’re dealing with, and more than that, to understand them — including their ownership and control structures.


Governments and business need to know who they are really doing business with.


The lack of transparency in supply chains also increases the risk of slavery and exploitation, which again disproportionately affects women.

So what are our three fundamental asks on open company datasets:

  • Open company registers: Despite clear evidence from various reports of the importance of company data to be open and accessible to all, it continues to be one of the least open datasets in the world. Whether you are a company who wants to do business with a new company, or a government employing a contractor, or an investigative journalist looking into a lead — we all need this information. There have been tremendous advances in this area, not least due to the work of OpenCorporates, the largest open database of companies in the world, which has been campaigning on this for the past 6 years. However many corporate registers remain closed, with company data locked behind paywalls, and in inaccessible formats such as PDFs. What we need is structured and open data so that records can be searched, linked and used by machines and humans alike. We need this to be open data so organisations like OpenCorporates can enable civil society and businesses to search records across the world.
  • Public and open registers of beneficial ownership: Knowing who controls and benefits from companies is extremely important to combat corruption and money laundering. Where Beneficial Ownership data is uniquely powerful is when the shareholding data doesn’t tell the true picture, particularly when control is exercised through complex structures — using intermediary companies, trusts, nominees, and offshore vehicles. This became evident in the aftermath of the Panama Papers. The public, civil society, investigative journalists — everyone, deserves to have access to this data without any fees and in open data. OpenOwnership, a new open, global beneficial ownership register that’s being developed by civil society, is collecting these siloed beneficial ownership datasets to enable searching across self-disclosed company beneficial ownership and national registers. It’s launching later this month! Sign up to hear more.
  • Open contracting data: It’s essential that governments sign up to the Open Contracting Data Standard, requiring governments to publish procurement information openly and in a standard format. Public contracting is the single biggest item of spending by government — amounting to $9,500,000,000,000 each year. Government discretion and secrecy makes public contracting particularly vulnerable to corruption. The OECD Anti-Bribery Convention shows that roughly 60% of bribes were paid to win public contracts. Open contracting is a solution that has been gathering storm in this space and is the right platform for governments to move forward on contracting transparency. But it is not just about publishing open data throughout the full contracting process, but also about identifying better ways of using this information to develop mechanisms and channels to interact with groups such as women entrepreneurs. Open contracting data can also improve access to business opportunities with government for women-owned and minority-owned businesses. Many believe there is no bias in contracting, and having the data to prove there is can be quite powerful to create systemic change in procurement procedures.


This Women’s Day, it is worth remembering that corruption eats at the fabric of society but also hinders progress towards gender equality, preventing women from gaining full access to their civic, social and economic rights. Last year, Web Foundation and OpenHeroines found just 11 National Action Plan in 9 out of 75 Open Government Partnership countries had commitments that represent women or gender. As a community, we must mobilise to include gender into the anti‐corruption, open government and open data analysis and response.
Picture: “Dolpa Woman and her Baby” by Lenz