Women’s strikes today draw attention to the need for global tax reform, so that investment in services can ease the burden of women’s domestic labour.
Not a single woman in offices, universities or schools. None on the street or public transport. Nor in shops, restaurants or places of entertainment. A collective of feminist movements has urged that for today, March 9th, Mexico has to be a country without women. Under the slogan #UNDÍASINNOSOTRAS, the national strike has been called against gender violence, inequality and the culture of machismo. Support has overcome the barriers of class or political preference.
But the movement goes far beyond Mexico. Iceland pioneered the day without women in 1975 and we have also seen it in Poland, Switzerland, the United States and Argentina in recent years. Organisations around the world have called for the women’s strikes to take on a global dimension this year.
All over the world, women’s rights are constantly being violated. Violence, whose levels have become intolerable—and not only in Mexico—is of course one of the greatest problems. Every day globally, an average of 137 women die at the hands of their partners or family members, according to the United Nations. In Europe, 33 per cent of women have experienced physical or sexual violence since the age of 15.
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.
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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 marginalised 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 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 reduce women’s opportunity costs in entering the labour market or having time for productive activities or leisure.
New fiscal pact
How can this effort be financed in these times of 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 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. Often legally, they manage to hide their 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. 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.
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In recent years, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the club of rich countries, has proposed changes to the global tax system. As we explained in a recent report, however, 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.
Also see our focus page What is inequality?
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. From 2008 to 2014 she was United Nations rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights.