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Fair dues: just taxation for women’s rights

May 17th, 2016

Women in every country suffer multiple forms of discrimination that are all too often exacerbated by unjust tax and fiscal systems. In recent months, CESR has been contributing to pioneering initiatives addressing the way tax regimes, at both the national and international levels, are hindering progress towards gender equality and the realization of women’s rights.

Regressive taxation regimes reify patriarchal gender roles
and are a key driver of poverty among women around the world.
This image shows building work in Sudan. Photo: UN

As part of our broader focus on fiscal justice and human rights, CESR participated in the recent World Bank-International Monetary Fund spring meetings. Building on innovative new research from the IMF, Oxfam and the Bretton Woods Project (BWP) on how income and gender inequality are inextricably linked, CESR co-organized a discussion entitled “Missing the bigger picture for women's economic empowerment? Wages, labor and taxation policies in focus” which aimed to inform the IMF’s new pilot project on gender, as well as the newly-established High-Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment.

Participants from the IMF, Oxfam, BWP, the International Network on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and CESR discussed how women’s economic equality can only be achieved within a broader transformation in the way economic resources are raised, spent and governed. Drawing on the briefing Redistributing Unpaid Care Work: Why Tax Matters for Women’s Rights - produced by CESR’s Kate Donald and IDS’ Rachel Moussié – CESR’s Niko Lusiani illustrated how inequitable tax policies play a fundamental role in disadvantaging women, especially by reifying the disproportionate share of unpaid care work they are obliged to take on. Those present heard that the triple burden women often face of caring for loved ones, paying disproportionately higher taxes, and suffering more from spending cuts when government revenues falter, poses structural obstacles to true gender equality.

The discussion also pointed to the way in which tax systems reproduce unequal burdens and benefits for women within as well as between countries. As CESR's joint submission to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) on women’s rights and Swiss financial secrecy has demonstrated, the broken international tax system undermines the rights of poor women in poor countries disproportionately. They are amongst the first and most acutely affected when the loss of tax revenues cripples public budgets, weakens public services, and increases the tax burden on lower-income households as a result of the type of cross-border tax abuse brought to light by the Panama Papers.

Produced by CESR in collaboration with the Global Justice Clinic at New York University School of Law, the Tax Justice Network (TJN) and Berne Declaration, the groundbreaking submission on Switzerland is the first to focus exclusively on the role of a tax haven in undermining human rights outside its borders. As a result of the initiative, CEDAW has called on Switzerland to account for the impact its policies may have in facilitating tax abuse abroad when it appears before the Committee later this year.

Also taking part in the event was CESR board member and former Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights Magdalena Sepúlveda, who elucidated the way World Bank initiatives targeting women, such as conditional cash transfers, often exacerbate the disproportionate share of unpaid care work they are obliged to take on. “Conditionalities in these programs often oblige women to ensure children are vaccinated, have health checks, and maintain school attendance, and in most cases noncompliance is penalized with anything from a warning to permanent exclusion,” she explained. “While these conditions are trying to achieve worthy outcomes, women are being instrumentalized, and their rights are not respected.”

Over 20 years have passed since the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action recognized unfair taxation as one of the myriad obstacles blocking progress towards real gender equality. Yet, advances in addressing the gendered impacts of tax and fiscal policy have remained limited. Together with our allies in the tax justice, development and women’s rights communities, CESR will continue working to bring human rights norms and standards to bear in confronting the long-standing injustice of fiscal discrimination against women.

  • Briefing: Redistributing Unpaid Care Work: why tax matters for women’s rights can be downloaded here.
  • Joint submission to CEDAW – "State Responsibility for the Impacts of Cross-border Tax Abuse on Women’s Rights & Gender Equality" – can be downloaded here.

  • To learn more about CESR's work on Human Rights and Development click here.
  • To learn about CESR's work on Human Rights in Tax Policy, see here.