Gendering Moral Capital

Morality as a Political Asset and Strategy of Top Female Politicians in Asia

Author: Claudia Derichs; Andrea Fleschenberg; Momoyo Huumlstebeck


In contrast to social capital, moral capital remains an under-researched topic in political science. In Asia, however, moral capital is one of the core assets of women politicians on their way to power. Kane defines moral capital as a specific political value of virtue that inclines others, in particular the political public and followers, to bestow (ethical) prestige, respect, loyalty, and authority on a political actor or the representative of an institution that the actor herself/himself can use as a resource to mobilize for political goals, activities, or support. This article addresses two questions. First, in which circumstances does moral capital become a significant asset for women on the rise to the top echelons of political power in Asia? Second, how do women politicians use moral capital as a political strategy, campaign instrument, and/or asset of public imaging? The authors discuss four case studies of female opposition politicians — Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi, Malaysia's Wan Azizah, South Korea's Park Geun-hye, and Japan's Tanaka Makiko — in three types of political systems: democratic, semi-authoritarian, and authoritarian. All four women are descendants of political dynasties and each of them used moral capital to reach top political offices in their countries. But significant differences emerge regarding the importance of moral capital as a prime asset in the development of each of their political careers. These differences originate from (a) the power configurations in the political context in which each woman operates, and (b) the legacies of their fathers or husbands.
Countries: Burma | Japan | Korea | Malaysia

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September 2006
© Jeff Kingston