Not a single woman in offices, universities or schools. None in the streets or in public transportation. Nor in shops, restaurants or places of entertainment. On March 9th, women in Mexico went on strike against gender-based violence, inequality and the culture of machismo. Support for the strike overcame class differences and political identities and the movement went far beyond Mexico: From Iceland and Poland over Switzerland and the USA to Argentina. Organizations around the world called for a women’s strike of a global dimension in 2020.
Women's rights are constantly being violated all over the world. Violence remains one of the greatest problems. But injustice also exists on the economic front. 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. The invisibility of women's contributions in this area is immense. Women and girls spend 12.5 billion hours a day caring for others for free. According to Oxfam, this work contributes a yearly value of at least US $10.8 trillion to the economy, three times more than the technology industry. Worldwide, an estimated 606 million women 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. Global challenges such as climate change or epidemics hit women and their responsibilities especially hard.
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 to enter the labour market.
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 does not mean that women bear a disproportionate burden. On the other hand, available fiscal resources must also be increased. This can for example be done by more efficiently combating tax avoidance and evasion.
In this regard, a change in the international tax system is needed. Multinational Companies (MNCs) and their superrich shareholders need to pay their fair share of taxes. While, many MNCs take every opportunity to present themselves as allies of feminist causes, 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 requires a 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 the women 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 Rights. Twitter: @Magda_Sepul
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