More women in politics ≠ less corruption/more empowered women (rakyat)

The discourse surrounding women’s political participation in Malaysia has been on the rise lately ranging from NGOs spearheading initiatives for half of the parliamentary seats to be filled by women to calls for more women candidates to run for elections. While I support such calls due to the fact that women make up half (48.6%) [1] of the Malaysian population, I feel that such discourse is only based on quantitative domains, ignoring women’s tendency to be corrupted under a corrupted system if transparency is not upheld. I don’t deny the fact that women in politics are scarce because they are held back due to the glass ceiling. People still feel women are not capable to lead. We can’t argue that it must be based on ‘merit’ because even though women’s capabilities are based on their credentials, people will still perceive that women shouldn’t lead. This kind of perception is still common among the rakyat. In contrast to their male counterparts, people will never judge their ability to lead based on their gender.

Now, apart from calling for more women in parliament or to be appointed as ministers, perhaps such discourse should also be supplemented with how are we so sure that women don’t have the tendency to be as corrupted as men whilst being in positions of power? Especially under Malaysia’s political climate?  There is a lack of discourse regarding this so I think it should be something that we should take into consideration. Having more women in parliament or as ministers does not mean that the public sector will automatically be less corrupted. There needs to be a political will to turn that into reality. As proof for women to be less corrupted, maybe we have international examples of women who are leading the country such as Angela Merkel of Germany, Sanna Marin of Finland, and Jacinda Arden of New Zealand. But to take them as examples alone is disregarding the fact that their public sector has a high degree of transparency. In the 2019 Corruption Perception Index (CPI) [2], New Zealand ranks 1st, Finland ranks 3rd, and Germany ranks 9th out of 180 countries on the list. As for Malaysia, we ranked 51st. To contrast another example against those three leaders, we have Park Geun-hye. In 2018, former South Korean president Park Geun-hye, who was also the first female president of the country, was charged with corruption and is now serving jail time for 25 years [3]. So, the argument that says ‘women are less corrupted’ is I believe to be flawed because based on international numbers, there are only currently 21 out of 193 countries that have a female head of government or state, which makes up about 10% of the world leaders in total. Can we really conclude that just from that 10%, that women are less corrupted? It’s just too small of a sample.

Knowing how Malaysia does not have a good track record of transparency [4], if this flaw in our public sector does not get solved, how are we sure that some female politicians would not become as corrupt as some of their male counterparts? I think if they can get away with corruption under a less transparent system, of course, they will use it to their advantage. Having half of the female parliamentarians, or ministers does not guarantee good governance. Women have the tendency to succumb to corruption as well.

I think the other thing that we should consider is how are we sure that the woman politician that we elect will empower women of all social levels? Take Margaret Thatcher for instance, during her time as British Prime Minister (1979-1990), she did little to help other women seeking elected office and preferred the company of other male politicians [5]. I don’t doubt that some go into politics just for their self-interest, only empowering themselves but not other women, whilst having the tendency of leaving women of lower-income in a continuous bad situation (for instance). What is so feminist about that?

With that being said, having more women in politics (at least half) is only the bare minimum. I do hope Malaysia will arrive at that point someday in my lifetime, but let this hope be coupled with more efforts to advocate for more transparency as it is a criterion for good governance as well as having quality female politicians that fight for the rights of the rakyat, that will benefit all genders regardless of background.

References:

[1] https://tradingeconomics.com/malaysia/population-female-percent-of-total-wb-data.html#:~:text=Population%2C%20female%20(%25%20of%20total%20population)%20in%20Malaysia%20was%20reported,compiled%20from%20officially%20recognized%20sources.

[2] https://www.transparency.org/en/about

[3] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-43666134

[4] https://www.thestar.com.my/opinion/columnists/vital-signs/2020/01/15/malaysia-does-not-have-a-good-record-of-transparency

[5] ‘Europe’s Crises and the Fate of the West: Fractured Continent’ by William Drozdiak

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