With COVID-19 subsiding and governments starting to rebuild their economies, now is the time to push for tax policies to ensure more equitable treatment of women who have borne the brunt of the crisis, campaigners say.
The coronavirus crisis has exacerbated inequalities affecting women around the world, including in Canada, leading to a “she-cession,” a phrase that is becoming popular in Canada, Erika Beauchesne of Canadians for Tax Fairness said March 15 during a webcast organized by the Global Alliance for Tax Justice.
“We cannot have a recovery without a ‘she-covery,’ so we really need to strengthen support for women, and we can afford to do that with tax justice,” Beauchesne said.
Government recovery plans must include progressive taxation to target the extreme concentration of wealth, which has increased during the pandemic, and use those revenues to strengthen social programs that directly benefit women, especially those in lower-income households, Beauchesne said. The idea of wealth taxation has gained a lot of support in Canada, even among the wealthy and Conservative voters, she added.
“We’re cautiously optimistic. We think there’s a lot of momentum now to really push governments to recognize that we need to address not only inequality, but [raising] revenues to help pay for the recovery,” Beauchesne said.
Wealth taxation is also a popular idea in the United States, according to Ian Gary of the Financial Accountability and Corporate Transparency Coalition. He pointed to a proposal from Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., for an “ultra-millionaire tax,” which would affect the very richest households.
Gary pointed to some signs of progress under President Biden, including his recent executive order addressing inequality, which calls for the creation of the Interagency Working Group on Equitable Data to ensure that federal data is aggregated by factors such as race and gender. That data will help inform all agencies, including Treasury and the IRS, so it will be interesting to see new data that show how the U.S. tax code affects gender, he added.
Tove Maria Ryding of Eurodad said one reason countries have regressive tax systems is that it is difficult to make multinational enterprises pay their fair share of tax, and many EU countries have encouraged the race to the bottom on corporate taxation and harmful tax practices.
Politicians in the EU are finally starting to respond, especially on public country-by-country reporting, which would help citizens see how much and where large multinationals pay their taxes, Ryding said, pointing to the EU Council’s recent show of support for a public CbC reporting proposal.
Ryding also took issue with the two-pillar global tax reform plan under discussion through the OECD inclusive framework, which she said would put developing countries in the difficult position of choosing between collecting too little tax under the new rules, or regressive taxation. She reiterated calls for establishing a global tax body at the U.N. to set more inclusive tax policies that would benefit developing countries and to reframe negotiations in the context of women’s rights.
Progress on tax and equality is a bit murkier in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations region, according to Hoang Phuong Thao of Action Aid Vietnam, who pointed to a lack of cooperation addressing the race to the bottom on corporation tax, thanks to economic disparities in the region. Countries like Singapore and Malaysia are among the richest countries, while Myanmar and Laos are among the least developed, and Thailand, Vietnam, and the Philippines are emerging economies, she added.
Because there’s a lot of inequality, there are many conflicts about tax incentives for women’s development, so nongovernmental organizations have their work cut out for them in the region, Thao said.
María Felix Estrada, representing the Nicaraguan Institute for Tax Research and Studies and the Latin America and the Caribbean Tax Justice Network, said that in Latin America, the pandemic has created more poverty among households, which are mostly led by women. Sometimes, gender biases in tax systems are not easily visible, so events and campaigns focusing on the relationship between tax and gender equality could raise awareness of the problem, she said.
The pandemic has shown that despite governments' commitments to tackle gender inequality, discrimination and biases in tax policies still exist, and those living in poverty — especially in the global south — have had to bear the heaviest burdens, according to Caroline Othim of the Global Alliance for Tax Justice. A lot must be done to reframe the economic and tax system to make it work for women, she added. “It’s not just building back better, it’s building forward better,” she said.
Correction, March 16, 2021: This article has been corrected to reflect that Erika Beauchesne referred to support for a wealth tax by Conservative voters, not politicians.