Making Taxes Work for Women - With Roosje Saalbrink
(Womankind supporters at IWD London march 2020 demanding the right of AllNotSome women. Photo credit: Alex Massey for Womankind Worldwide)
As part of the Global Days of Action on Tax Justice for Women's Rights 2021, the Global Alliance for Tax Justice invited some members and partners to tell us about the impacts of tax systems on women in their region and how we could make taxes work for women. Roosje Saalbrink, Policy and Advocacy Manager – Women’s Economic Rights at Womankind Worldwide, co-chair of our Tax and Gender Working Group, and Advisory Group member of the Gender and Development Network, shares her perspectives.
1. Do taxes work for women?
I think it is fair to say that taxes do not work for women at the moment. Nor do the international tax rules, which do not work for most people, apart from a minority of wealthy individuals and corporations extracting fast wealth and hiding it away.
Fiscal choices have gendered impacts and consequently States should ensure resources to promote redistribution and do not increase the burden on women. For meaningful, transformative and lasting progress on women’s rights, a rights-based feminist approach to how the global economy is governed and created is needed.
The challenge in addressing this gross injustice and inequality is that the systems keeping this in place are global and opaque. Patriarchal structures and racist systems of oppression uphold relationships of economic extraction.
In 2021, a year after the supposed acceleration of women’s rights and gender equality, following the 25th year anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, a milestone for women’s rights, we are actually seeing a stark rollback of women’s rights. We are talking of decades of regression, due to gender-blind and harmful COVID-19 responses that ignore the reality of unpaid and underpaid care and domestic work, the need for universal social protection and access to healthcare. Women’s already extortionate and disproportionate amount of unpaid care and domestic work has only increased during the pandemic, as has violence against women and girls. For women who experience multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination because of their class, race, sexual orientation/ identification, disability, age or migrant status, amongst other dimensions this is worse and they may be marginalised further in inadequate COVID-19 responses.
Roosje Saalbrink: 'For meaningful, transformative and lasting progress on women’s rights, a rights-based feminist approach to how the global economy is governed and created is needed.'
2. How could governments incorporate the demands of the global movement to 'Make Taxes Work for Women' as part of the recovery measures to overcome the COVID-19-triggered crises?
When thinking about the how and why of gender – blindness of COVID-19 recovery measures, we need to look at representation.
Another part of the problem is the lack of diverse women’s voices and representation within political decision-making, at local, national and international levels. And particularly within economic and financial decision-making spaces and institutions. Macroeconomic policy and decisions makers are not involved in a politically neutral, technical process, this is highly political and should reflect societies’ values, priorities and principles and States’ human rights obligations. All women should be able to exercise choice and control over economic opportunities, outcomes and resources, and shape economic decision-making at all levels.
Above all, without recognising, reducing and redistributing the unpaid care work disproportionately done by women that underpins the economic system, the current ‘’recovery’’ policies will remain inherently biased and reinforce structural inequalities that penalise the poorest women and girls. To achieve transformative change towards women’s rights, progressive national and global tax reforms and improvements in global governance and accountability are vital, as well as more suitable corporate accountability mechanisms. A just feminist economy would reduce the time burden of unpaid care work, provide secure incomes, tax justice with sufficient public resources to guarantee maximum levels of health and care provision, universal social protection and promote women’s safety and ability to engage in political activity.
3. What should change to address gender in/equality in its various intersecting dimensions?
We need to start with dismantling Global North countries' dominance in economic and financial policy-making and decision-making spaces.
Tax havens in the global North facilitate extractive illicit financial flows and tax avoidance. The Netherlands, for example, according to the State of Tax Justice report 2020 facilitates 8.50 percent of global tax losses to an estimated $36 billion lost. That is outrageous! This is an equivalent if almost 3 million nurses. Higher income countries may lose a lot more tax than lower income countries, but the impact of those tax losses are far greater on lower income countries public spending, equal to over half their public health budgets. Imagine the different situations countries would be in during this pandemic with these resources. For a fair global economy, just distribution of resources is needed towards human rights for all, substantive gender equality, women’s rights and climate justice.
This is why we demand the establishment of an inclusive intergovernmental UN Global Tax Body, to ensure equal taxing rights and stop all forms of tax abuse by multinational corporations and the wealthy elites.
Governments need to ensure adequate financing, including progressive redistributive and gender equal taxation and debt forgiveness. And ensure adequate financing of gender-responsive social services that promote women’s rights, and reduce inequalities, including by gender budgeting and resourcing for women’s rights and feminist organisations and movements.