Are women leaders less corrupt than their male counterparts? That's a tricky one. The answer, it seems, is something like yes and no.
It's a loaded question, but it's also a terribly important one. Let's start with a well-known 1999 World Bank study, which found that for every standard deviation point increase in women in public office above 10.9 percent, corruption decreased 10%. That seems like pretty straightforward evidence, but things may not be that simple. Countries with more women in positions of power do tend to be less corrupt than their less egalitarian neighbours. But that trend may have more to do with transparent and accountable systems of governance rather than gender.
Reuters cites a new study, entitled Fairer Sex or Purity Myth?:
The report found that in autocratic regimes with strong male hierarchies, more women in power had little measurable impact on corruption, but that in more open, democratic political systems the change was noticeable.
Researchers have speculated that this difference might have something to do with risk aversion. In male-dominated hierarchies where women must rise by courting an old boys' network, refusing to participate in corruption could carry substantial risk. But in more democratic, equal societies – the political cultures in which greater female representation does reduce corruption – it's engaging in corruption that carries the risk.
The lesson seems pretty clear. We should be working simultaneously to build more open and democratic societies and to greatly increase female representation, as in the case of this incredible woman:
In Nicaragua, a councilman soliciting sex in return for metal roofing for her home prompted Aurora Arauz to run for a seat on the municipal council.
Arauz was president of a women's cooperative and trained in her legal rights, so she filed a police complaint when the council member sought a sexual bribe ...
The council threw the man off the body and held a special meeting to improve services for women, including naming Arauz as a women's coordinator.
Over at Jezebel, with tongue firmly in cheek, they're celebrating increased equality and neatly summarising the argument:
So, it's 2012, and we're letting ladies be in charge of stuff now (I mean, some stuff, in some places) ... [But] there's one area in which women haven't yet managed to achieve equality, and that's being a corrupt, bribe-taking dickhead crony. Something to aspire to, ladies.
Sources: World Bank, Reuters, Rice University, Jezebel