For gender equality, the rich must pay taxes

Magdalena Sepúlveda | Updated on March 07, 2020 Published on March 07, 2020

Better public services are needed to relieve women from unpaid care work. This can be financed by proper taxation of large firms

Not a single woman in offices, universities or schools; none on the street or public transportation, nor in shops, restaurants or places of entertainment. For one day, Mexico mustbe without women. This is the proposal of a collective of feminist movements for March 9.

Under the slogan #UNDÍASINNOSOTRAS, the national strike is called against gender violence, inequality and the culture of machismo. Support for the strike has overcome the barriers of class and political preference. In fact, the movement goes far beyond Mexico. Several ‘days without women’ — Iceland pioneered it in 1975 — have been seen in Poland, Switzerland, the US and Argentina. Organizations around the world are calling for the women’s strike to take on a global dimension by 2020.

It is essential to draw attention to this. Despite the rhetoric, women’s rights are constantly being violated all over the world. Violence, whose levels have become intolerable, is one of the greatest problems. Every day, an average of 137 women around the world die at the hands of their partners or family members, according to the United Nations. In India, every third woman, since the age of 15, has faced domestic violence of various forms, according to the National Family Health Survey.

But this is not our only struggle. On the economic front, the injustice is also blatant. Men own 50 per cent more of the world’s total wealth than women. On average, women receive 77 per cent of what men receive for equal work, education and responsibility. The World Economic Forum estimates that it will take 202 years to close the gender wage gap.

Unpaid work

At the heart of gender inequalities is the unequal distribution of domestic and care work. It is women who bear the greatest burden of care for children, the elderly and people with illnesses/disabilities. We also do most of the daily domestic tasks such as cooking, cleaning, washing, mending and fetching water.

Invisibility of women’s contributions in this area is immense. Women and girls, in poverty and from marginalised groups, spend 12.5 billion hours every day caring for others for free. According to Oxfam, this work adds at least $10.8 trillion in economic value a year, three times greater than the tech industry.

Worldwide, an estimated 606 million women, or 41 per cent of those currently unemployed, are excluded from the labour market because of family responsibilities. Even when women do work, they are often trapped in informal, low-paid jobs with flexible hours that allow for a second, unpaid day at home.

And this is expected to get worse with the consequences of climate change. It is estimated that by 2025, up to 2.4 billion people will be living in areas without enough water, meaning that women and girls will be forced to walk further to find it. Emergence of serious public health crises, such as the Covid-19, will also place increasing demands on women’s time.

Advancing gender equality makes it imperative to recognise, reduce and redistribute domestic and care work. This will require the establishment of quality public services such as nurseries, health centres and homes for the elderly. It is also necessary to invest in infrastructure such as drinking water, sanitation and electricity. Such measures would improve women enter the labour market or engage in productive activities.

Change in tax system

How can this effort be financed in these times of fiscal austerity? Advancing gender equality requires a new fiscal pact. On one hand, progressive tax systems must be designed in a way that prevents women from bearing a disproportionate burden. On the other, available fiscal resources must also be increased. This can be done in many ways, such as improving efficiency in collection or combating tax avoidance and evasion.

In this regard, a change in the international tax system is needed. Multinationals — and the super-rich who control them — need to pay their fair share of taxes. While many multinational companies take every opportunity to present themselves as allies of feminist causes,they have an army of lawyers and accountants manipulating the international tax system to avoid paying taxes. Often legally, they manage to hide profits in tax havens. This translates into $200 billion a year in losses for developing countries .

Addressing the taxation of multinationals would have a huge positive impact on public finances. The Independent Commission on International Corporate Tax Reform (ICRICT) is convinced that tackling inequality, including gender inequality, requires reform of the international taxation of large companies.

In recent years, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) proposed changes to the global tax system. However, as the ICRICT explained in a recent report, these proposals are neither ambitious nor fair. As long as the will of multinationals and elites continues to prevail, any reform will perpetuate economic and social inequalities and the culture of patriarchy.

To declare oneself a feminist requires rethinking the economic and social structures that prevent gender equality. It is not enough just to support those who participate in women’s strikes. It also means demanding that big business and the super-rich pay what they owe.

The writer is Executive Director of the Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and a member of the Independent Commission on International Corporate Tax Reform.

Published on March 07, 2020

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