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Do you want a more caring – and feminist – society? Tax better!

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Women are the first to pay the price for decades of budget cuts and privatisation of essential services. AFP

Do you want a more caring – and feminist – society? Tax better!

In the US, it was Vice-President Kamala Harris who sounded the alarm by pointing out that 2.5 million women have been forced to leave the work market since the beginning of the pandemic.

“Our economy cannot fully recover unless women can participate fully. So I believe, I think we all believe, this is a national emergency”, she hammered away in a video call held with several women’s advocacy groups and lawmakers, calling for a national plan to address this situation.

While the progress of Covid-19 vaccinations in the US gives hope for a rapid recovery of the economy, a report from McKinsey Global found that women, who made up 43 per cent of the work force, accounted for 56 per cent of Covid-related job losses, with non-college-educated women and women of colour being disproportionately affected.

Kamala Harris’s cry of alarm should in fact be extended to the whole world. Everywhere, there are women the pandemic has pushed out of the labour force all together. Therefore, even though women live longer than men, the gender gap in retirement security will only increase.

Even for those women who are still on the labour market, their situation has deteriorated. Social isolation has narrowed their options to escape contexts of domestic abuse. And most of them are now shouldering a much larger burden of unpaid domestic duties than men. Lockdown has only added to household work, with women taking care of most virus prevention, looking after their families’ health, and juggling new safety and hygiene protocols. They are also the ones who take on the primary responsibility of homeschooling children as well as caring for the sick and the elderly.

More than ever, the pandemic has made evident the unequal sharing of unpaid care and domestic work, and how undervalued and under-recognised it is. It is a significant constraint for women’s progress in education and training, an obstacle to their entry into and advancement in the paid labour market, their economic opportunities and entrepreneurial activities, resulting in gaps in social protection, pay and pensions.

The prospects for the next generation are no more reassuring, as school closures have disrupted learning outcomes for 1.7 billion children worldwide as well as their nutrition, health and safety. Save the Children warns in a report that millions of girls are at risk of not being able to return to school after the pandemic. There will be 13 million more child marriages by 2030 than would have been the case without Covid-19.

This is the scourge of the pandemic: It is landing multiple blows on those least able to bear them, widening inequalities stemming from gender, class and race. As the world has just celebrated International Women’s Day, we must reiterate that this situation is not acceptable, nor is inevitable.

All over the world, populations have been forced to become aware of the vital importance of public services such as universal health care services, childcare provision, adult social care, education, and water and sanitation. Those who have been providing vital work during the pandemic, are predominantly women, and the working conditions of most of them are deplorable.

Women are the first to pay the price for decades of budget cuts and privatisation of essential services. This is why it is urgent for governments to take immediate and long-term correctives to invest in public services, social protection, and infrastructure for gender equality and women’s full enjoyment of their human rights.

All these much-needed measures obviously have a cost, and it is just about answering one question: who will pay for them? At ICRICT, a commission engaged in reforming the international tax system in a fair and equitable way, our answer is: it is time for those who have the most to pay the most.

As a recent Oxfam report shows, rich people are getting richer despite the pandemic. The world’s 10 richest billionaires – all men, unsurprisingly – have seen their wealth skyrocket by half a trillion dollars since March 2020. That is more than enough to prevent anyone on the planet from falling into poverty because of the virus, and to pay for a Covid-19 vaccine for all.

This pandemic must mark a turning point in the taxation of the richest individuals. It is also a unique opportunity to really address corporate tax dodging and put an end to corporate tax competition. We have a solution at hand, through the introduction of a minimum effective corporate tax rate of 25 per cent worldwide. Any multinational that books its profits in a tax haven would therefore be taxed in its home country up to this minimum rate.

This would reduce its interest in transferring its profits to these unscrupulous jurisdictions. Utopian just a few weeks ago, this measure now seems possible, with the Biden administration assuring that it has committed itself to “try to stop what has been a destructive, global race to the bottom on corporate taxation” as Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen put it at her confirmation hearing.

Other countries of the world must move in the same direction. An international reform to make multinationals and the richest pay their fair share of taxes requires a global agreement. It is essential that these negotiations take place in the most transparent and egalitarian way possible, ideally within the UN, which is the only legitimate forum for these exchanges.

Generating more revenues to invest in measures essential to ensure women’s rights and gender equality depends on progressive and fair tax systems. Today more than ever, taxing the richest members of our societies will put us on the path to becoming more caring societies. Which also means societies that place women’s rights at their core.

Magdalena Sepulveda 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).

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