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[Op-Ed] Women and Corruption

Posted April. 04, 2009 08:58,   


Does greater female political participation lower the level of corruption? Most research says so. Countries perceived as least corrupt by the Corruption Perceptions Index of Transparency International have a large share of female lawmakers. Last year, Finland, which had ranked at the top for a long time, took a backseat to Denmark, New Zealand and Sweden. Denmark and Sweden have the biggest share of female lawmakers. Rwanda`s share of female lawmakers is 48.8 percent but the African country lacks men due to war and thus was not considered. Women account for 45.3 percent of Swedish lawmakers and 38 percent of Danish lawmakers. New Zealand was led by two female prime ministers before incumbent John Phillip Key was sworn in.

In her article for the monthly Foreign Affairs in 2007, Swanee Hunt, who was appointed U.S. ambassador to Austria and is also director of the Women and Public Policy Program at Harvard University, said greater female political participation reduced corruption. The relative cleanness of women in politics was cited as a reason to back female political participation via the quota system. Experts supporting women’s political participation say female politicians are less likely to be corrupt. The reason is that they are less willing to risk accepting bribes than men since they struggle to reconcile political life with family commitments.

In Korea, however, most low-ranking officials who were recently caught welfare funds were women. A public servant in Haenam County, South Jeolla Province, embezzled 1.1 billion won (820,283 U.S. dollars) in welfare funds. She was a 40-year-old woman who applied for living expenses under the names of low-income people who died or moved out. She received the money through dozens of bank accounts under borrowed names. Another low-ranking official in Seoul`s Nowon district office was caught having embezzled 100 million won (74,571 dollars) for six years. She was a woman in her 30s on maternity leave. A few days ago, a female staff working at Seoul National University Hospital was found to have embezzled 700 million won (521,999 dollars) donated by supporters.

Last year’s global financial crisis has brought about a theory saying testosterone contains the original sin since most financiers and specialists on Wall Street are men. A man has 10 times more testosterone than a woman. Nevertheless, this assumption is questionable. The share of female lawmakers can be understood as a yardstick to determine the level of transparency, but this does not mean that women are more incorruptible than men. Instead women might even be more vulnerable to corruption since they are more likely to be addicted to shopping. In certain aspects, women might be less corruptible than men since they have fewer opportunities. In short, studies saying women are less corrupt than men have apparently lost ground.

Editorial Writer Chung Sung-hee (shchung@donga.com)