Why Is the Unequal Tax System a Source of Structural Violence Against Women

Published on 
12/10/2020

As we commemorate both the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence and the international Human Rights Day, it is imperative that governments ensure the realization of gender equality, including the required budgetary measures for the fulfilment of economic, social and cultural rights -- and to make it a reality, our governments have to address tax abuses as part of their obligations.

By Caroline Othim, Global Policy and Campaigns Coordinator - Africa at the Global Alliance for Tax Justice

Tax systems all over the world over are built upon extractive, neoliberal, patriarchal economic models and systems of oppression which contain numerous provisions that negatively impact women based on gender and multiple intersecting characteristics. Worse, the COVID-19 crisis, is exacerbating these existing structural inequalities such as racism and gender inequality. This is not only morally unacceptable, it is illegal. Transnational corporations also continue to take advantage of the broken global tax system and loopholes in domestic tax laws to practice aggressive tax avoidance and tax evasion.

This unequal tax system is a source of structural violence and directly breaches the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and its General Recommendations. As stated by the CEDAW, gender-based violence "takes multiple forms, such as economic harm […] and is often exacerbated by cultural, economic, ideological, technological, political, religious, social and environmental factors, as evidenced, among others, in the contexts of displacement, migration, increased globalization of economic activities including global supply chains, extractive and offshoring industry" and is also affected by political, economic and social crises.

As we commemorate both the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence and the international Human Rights Day, it is imperative that governments ensure the realization of gender equality, including the required budgetary measures for the fulfilment of economic, social and cultural rights -- and to make it a reality, our governments have to address tax abuses as part of their obligations.

Tax revenue lost through tax abuses contributes to government budget deficits in funding essential public services which are fundamental for the achievement of women's rights. As social services are starved of public funding, women are forced to take on an even greater share of unpaid work and domestic work, more than men. Social protection is a human right. Governments need to put in place stronger social protection systems that look at the differentiated impacts and intersecting inequalities.

Discriminatory tax laws and harmful tax practices, such as tax cuts and tax breakaways for the rich, protect capitalism and male privilege and intensify gender inequality. Gender discrimination and reliance on structural, systemic and stereotyped views of women in tax policies is a violation of governments’ obligations under the CEDAW. The multiple crises of the COVID-19 pandemic provides us with an opportunity to put a sharp gender lens on such practices and implement fiscal justice measures that will ensure greater equality.

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