Are women leaders less corrupt? No, but they shake things up

Dec 04 2012, 11:04 IST
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Growing body of research hints that the ascent of women might indeed help dent corruption. Growing body of research hints that the ascent of women might indeed help dent corruption.
SummaryGrowing body of research hints that the ascent of women might indeed help dent corruption.

It is almost a cliche that getting more women into power is a good way to tackle corruption. Women, the argument goes, are less likely to take bribes or put personal gain before public good. But is it true?

While many bristle at the suggestion that women are the "fairer sex," considering it simplistic and even sexist, a growing body of research hints that the ascent of women might indeed help dent corruption.

A deeper look shows the connection between gender and corruption is more complex than the cliche suggests. It is not that women are purer than men or immune to the pull of greed. Rather, the link appears to be that women are more likely to rise to positions of power in open and democratic political systems, and such societies are generally more intolerant of wrongdoing, including the abuse of power and siphoning off of public money.

"It's not about having more women in politics and saying, 'Ah, that will change everything,'" said Melanne Verveer, US ambassador for global women's issues.

"It's about changing the gender imbalance and then we could do a better job of tackling our problems. From what we can glean, you can tell this would have a salutary effect." So it might not be a direct cause, but anecdotal evidence

would seem to support the view that with more women in public office the quality of government improves, and with that. corruption falls.

In Lima, Peru, for instance, a field study by Sabrina Karim found that public perceptions of whether bribery was a major problem among traffic police had plummeted in 2012 compared with 14 years earlier. The change came after recruiting 2,500 women to patrol the streets.

A separate public opinion survey showed 86 percent approval for the job done by female traffic officers. From the point of view of the female traffic police, Karim, now a doctoral candidate at Emory University, found that 95 percent of those

surveyed thought the presence of women on the force had reduced corruption and 67 percent believed women were less corrupt. Mexico has copied Lima and introduced women officers as a way to tackle corruption. India also has seen changes since a 1993 law reserved 30 percent of seats on village councils for women. The World Bank's annual World Development Report this year credited this change for increasing the provision of clean water, sanitation, schools and other public goods in the villages, and for

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