Progressive taxation for an equal, green, and feminist transition







This Monday (21st March), the Global Alliance for Tax Justice (GATJ) and members of its Tax and Gender Working Group hosted the parallel event to the 66th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW 66) “Feminist perspectives: Progressive taxation for an equal, green, and feminist transition”. The session was part of the programme of activities of the Global Days of Action on Tax Justice for Women’s rights 2022”, and aimed to promote a discussion on how progressive taxation can help countries fight climate change, and foster feminist and green measures for economic recovery in response to the current multidimensional crisis. 

Caroline Othim, Global Policy Advocacy and Campaigns Coordinator at GATJ, started off the seminar by noting that “the COVID-19 presented an opportunity for those of us working on economic justice and gender justice to think through feminist perspectives for progressive taxation for an equal, green, and feminist transition. It is now more urgent than ever for governments and multilateral institutions to take action for tax justice to realise women’s rights whose realisation has been greatly impacted by the socio-economic impacts of the pandemic.”

Watch the video recording:

We are worse off in debt than during the 2008 financial crisis

Despite all commitments by world leaders for a better world, the situation we are in right now is worse than the 2008 financial crisis. Now is the time to move towards climate action and what we need is resources to finance climate justice. Corporations are not only asking for tax benefits when they invest in a country, they are now defining the rules by financing and lobbying politicians through the inclusive framework and multi-stakeholder participation at the global level within the OECD system. Multi-stakeholder means that everyone can participate, but actually, this is a euphemism to let business corporations sit at the table and be part of the decision-making process. Addressing the issue of tax justice is therefore key to re-establish a balance of powers. It will not only address the multiple crises from the climate crisis, debt crisis to gender inequality but also the possibility to have a say in this process, noted Rosa Pavanelli, General Secretary of Public Services International and keynote speaker.

Bhumika Muchhala from the Third World Network highlighted how fiscal austerity has impacted gender. “At the onset of COVID-19, there was a turn towards fiscal consolidation and austerity. More severe than the 2008 global financial crisis and almost at the level of sweeping structural adjustment programs of the 1980s. Today, fiscal austerity is deeply gendered, affecting 85% of the world’s population. Gendered austerity measures generate structural and cyclical poverty, inequality and injustice as well as the exploitation of women and girls. The austerity measures include public expenditure contraction, regressive taxation such as value-added taxes, labour flexible workforce, privatisation of state-owned enterprises, a decrease of minimum wages etc. The budget cuts by the state often eliminate the very programs and services which primarily benefit low-income women at the intersections of vulnerability, marginalisation of the aged or older populations”, she said.

Why do we need action for progressive taxation?

The panel highlighted the key issues around progressive taxation that can help countries fight climate change, and foster feminist and green measures for economic recovery in response to the current multidimensional crisis. One is the failure of the mechanism and structure of climate finance that was supposed to be given by developed countries to developing countries on the principle of human rights, on the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities is that the access to this structure is mostly by multinational corporations, big infrastructure projects for mitigations, energy projects but not to poor women who are working on informal sector jobs in rural economies. It shows that we live in a world of misplaced priorities because on one hand, we have a climate crisis and debt crisis whereas, on the other hand, the corporations are becoming more powerful every day and are receiving trillions of money in subsidies. “As long as there is the interchange of tax abuse, tax incentives and subsidies which are the real culprit of Progressive taxation, it will be difficult to channel money to public services, climate finance or even address impacts of climate change in the true sense. There are solutions to this challenge like the need to work in global solidarity and advocate for progressive taxation globally”, said Alina Saba, Programme Officer of the Center for Economic and Social Rights. 

According to Emilia Reyes, Co-coordinator of the Women’s Working Group on Financing for Development, “there is a disconnect between the call for international cooperation in terms of Official Development Assistance (ODAs) or even fulfilling the financial commitments in terms of what has been agreed on in the international frames.” She goes on to say: “We do not only need finance, we do not only need money, but we need a shift in the way our tax systems are working to more progressive tax systems.”

Perspectives from Latin America and the Caribbean 

Carola Mejía, Climate Finance Analyst at Latindadd, expounded more on the current situation in Latin America saying “Latin America and the Caribbean region is responsible for less than 10% of the greenhouse emissions, however, it is highly vulnerable to climate change effects with negative impacts on low-income families, women and other marginalised groups.. The region is suffering from heavy rains, hurricanes, earthquakes and these events put the population at risk. Another problem that they have as a region is that they are considered middle-income countries so they cannot benefit from access to climate funds. It is a very complicated issue that needs to be followed up on because the greater the climate vulnerability of the countries, the greater the interest they have to pay on foreign loans.”

Perspective from a Young Feminist

Shyleen Momanyi, Executive Director of the Young Women Leadership Institute (YWLI), said that “I am very angry because in the past few months we have really experienced very harsh taxation on basic goods that are critical for families. We have really had an outcry from activists and the public asking to lower food prices. We have had conversations with the government to ensure food prices are reduced. So for a young feminist like me, the Leadership Academy was very important in helping me understand the link between the work that I do on women’s rights, tax justice, the economy and these affect  how women and girls exercise their rights.”

How do we shift the narrative?

First, by the restructuring of the international financial and economic architecture

As stated by Reyes, “we do not only need finance, we need a shift in the way our systems are working. ODAs is not enough, climate finance is not enough if we do not shift the entire system on how things are working and this is why we call for the restructuring of the international finance and economic architecture as a whole because there is no other way that we are going to address the environmental emergency, not only climate change, environmental and ecosystem destruction, the loss of biodiversity. 

Secondly, have a stronger call reducing investment in armament for a serious disarmament process

Besides all other recommendations to address the issues in global taxation, Panaveli stated that “we as feminists movement need to launch a stronger call for reducing investment in armament for a serious disarmament process. That is not only needed to respond to the current conflict in Ukraine but also to make available resources that can be used to address the social need to repair the injustice that billions of people continue to suffer around the world and particularly women. This will increase tax injustice and invest in the socially productive sector rather than in sectors that can create conflict.”

“We need to work together and build awareness and create more knowledge and resources on tax justice issues, tax evasion, on climate finance issues and at the same time also frame them from a human rights perspective,” noted Saba. 

Thirdly, ensure climate finance

Within this framework, Saba stated that “the CSW comes with the message on empowerment of women and girls in times of double crisis, climate and the pandemic. It is a fact that the disproportionate impact of climate change on women and girls and those who live in the Global South Countries are most vulnerable to climate change. Now is a time for us to move towards climate action and what we need for this action. What we need is resources, finance. The discourse has to move towards looking for resources and taking action.”

She goes on to reaffirm the importance of climate finance, “Why climate finance? First, if there is not enough money and resources, second the structure of those institutions are so rigid that the most impacted community, the women and girls are not able to access it.  This is further impacted by the pandemic because there were so many millionaires becoming billionaires during the pandemic whereas the developing countries and some low-income countries were further pushed deeper into poverty and debt. It shows that we live in a world of misplaced priorities because on one hand, we have a climate crisis and debt whereas, on the other hand, the corporations  are becoming more powerful every day.” 

Lastly, a reformulation of debt and austerity

“Austerity and debt be reformulated and translated into a publicly accessible gender debate that is short of its technocratic language and situated in the dimensions of the lived experiences of women. Embodiment joins theory to practice making the politics of economic policy historically sensitive and accountable to the registers of patriarchy and neoliberalism.  Embodiment unites the experience of knowledge of women through the material conditions of their everyday life. So it grounds us in gender inequality and women’s rights in day-to-day life”, said Muchhala.

Bogota Declaration

Professor Kathleen Lahey, from Queen’s University Canada, reaffirmed the updates being made on the Bogota Declaration underpin tax and gender justice. She went on to say that  “There has never been equality between women and men in any tax system that has ever existed on this planet. Women have always been under a patriarchal structure unable to really participate in the kinds of activities that add value, create power that shaped cultures, that set up relationships between women and men. I think is something that is coming to a crisis level. Some countries have worked on these issues but invariably they have failed.”

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