Friday, December 3, 2021

Why Tax Justice matters for women’s wellbeing and dignity

INKURU ZIKUNZWE

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The Covid-19 Pandemic has undoubtedly disproportionately affected women and girls due to the existing structural, systemic and intersecting inequalities in the socio-economic and political systems. Aside from the health impacts, the pandemic is revealing and exacerbating economic inequality. For developing countries such as Uganda, initiatives to build forward transformatively will require key stakeholders re-examining, re-imagining and reforming the current economic models to make them more people centered, inclusive, progressive and just.

For instant, we simply will not tackle this crisis conjuncture without tax justice, which means that taxes are fairly raised and spent justly. Over the last three decades states have adopted regressive consumption taxes (e.g. VAT). Consequently, women bear the brunt of these policy reforms, worsening inequality and substantially impacting their expenditures as women tend to use larger portions of their income on food and basic goods for the household- because of gender norms that assign them responsibility for the care of dependents. Hence in Uganda, women account for 39 percent of human capital wealth compared to 61 percent for men.

Conversely, powerful corporations and wealthy individuals put pressure on States to reduce their own tax burden in the name of ‘investment incentives’ yet part of a global system to perpetuate illicit financial flows to avoid tax. The result is that giant amounts of corporate income – and the wealth of the 1% – accumulate untaxed and in tax havens, while rich and poor countries alike struggle to provide for their populations’ basic needs.

As Uganda implements the Domestic Resource Mobilization (DRM) strategy 2019/20-2022/23, it is imperative that the country adopts a framework that guarantees a fair, just and inclusive tax system. The budgetary challenges facing the Government of Uganda are significant. In the past few years, government expenditure has consistently been higher than revenue. According to information from the Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development, the country’s overall fiscal deficit for the financial year 2020/21 stood at UGX 13,412 trillion.

To interrogate and constructively propose progressive fiscal policy reforms that are also gender just requires understanding these issues through an intersectional feminist and human rights lens. This is especially because the way tax systems are designed and implemented has a direct impact on who they benefit and who they unfairly burden.

Our recently developed publication, Framing Feminist Taxation: Making Taxes Work for Women, forms a guide that brings together examples from Uganda to demonstrate how to link a global tax policy issue to a national framework in a way that is useful for influencing both domestic and international spaces. It provides tools to assess the gender bias in the current tax system and how to advocate towards a feminist tax framework – a tax system that upholds human rights and enables substantive gender equality.

As we work towards building a feminist future, we look to support tax justice and gender equality actors to challenge governments and international financial institutions’ role in shaping tax systems, policy-making and advocacy that can influence and change our current economic and tax systems.

Tax systems should be recalibrated to collect more direct tax from wealthy, high net worth individuals and to ensure that big multinational companies pay their fair share of tax. The existing global tax architecture is flawed as it goes a long way in facilitating tax avoidance, creating a bias in favor of not only high net worth individuals, but more importantly, big multinationals that also pay very low wages, particularly to women.

We need feminist economic frameworks to build forward transformatively post COVID 19. Feminist economic systems advance fairness, justice and inclusivity while centering the most marginalized in society.

Eunice Musiime is the Executive Director of Akina Mama Wa Africa, a Pan-african Women’s Rights organization headquartered in Kampala, Uganda.

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