Be a feminist, demand that the multinationals pay their taxes!
By Magdalena Sepúlveda
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 has to be a country without women. This is the proposal of a collective of feminist movements for this March 9th.
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 or political preference. In fact, the movement goes far beyond Mexico. After several days without women in other countries – Iceland pioneered it in 1975 – we have also seen it also in Poland, Switzerland, the United States and Argentina in recent years. 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 it. Despite the rhetoric, women’s rights are constantly being violated all over the world. Violence, whose levels have become intolerable – and not only in Mexico – is of course 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. At least 26,7% of Namibian women have experienced some form of violence with their partner.
But this is not our only struggle. On the economic front, the injustice is also blatant. Men own 50% more of the world’s total wealth than women. On average, women receive 77% of what men receive for equal work, education and responsibility. The World Economic Forum itself estimates that it will take 202 years to close the gender wage gap.
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 or disabilities. We are also the ones who do most of the daily domestic tasks such as cooking, cleaning, washing, mending and fetching water.
The invisibility of women’s contributions in this area is immense. Women and girls, living in poverty and those from marginalized groups, spend 12.5 billion hours a day caring for others for free. According to Oxfam, this work adds a value to the economy of at least US $10.8 trillion a year, a figure three times greater than the technology industry.
Worldwide, an estimated 606 million women, or 41 per cent of those currently unemployed, are excluded from the labour market because of their unpaid family responsibilities. Even when women do manage to work, they are often trapped in informal, low-paid jobs with flexible hours that allow for the 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 and further to find it. The emergence of serious public health crises, such as the coronavirus Covid-19, will also place increasing demands on women’s time.
Advancing gender equality makes it imperative to recognize, 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’s opportunity costs to enter the labour market or to have time for productive activities or leisure.
How can this effort be financed in these times of fiscal austerity? Advancing gender equality requires a new fiscal pact. On the one hand, progressive tax systems must be designed in a way that prevents women from bearing a disproportionate burden. On the other hand, available fiscal resources must also be increased. This can be done in a number of 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, on the one hand, many multinational companies take every opportunity to present themselves as allies of feminist causes, on the other, they have an army of lawyers and accountants manipulating the international tax system to avoid paying their fair share of taxes. Often legally, they manage to hide their profits in tax havens. This translates into US $200 billion a year in losses for developing countries.
Addressing the taxation of multinationals would have a huge positive impact on public finances. That is why we at the Independent Commission on International Corporate Tax Reform (ICRICT) are convinced that tackling the devastating crisis of inequality, including gender inequality, requires significant reform of the international taxation of large companies. And today there is an historic opportunity to do so.
In recent years, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the club of rich countries, has proposed changes to the global tax system. However, as we 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, in Mexico and elsewhere, will participate in women’s strikes. It also means demanding that big business and the super-rich pay what they owe.
Magdalena Sepúlveda 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 (ICRICT). From 2008-2014 she was the UN Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human.