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Taxing the super-rich: a tool to close the gender gap

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After climate-induced disasters, as with Hurricane Matthew in Haiti in 2016, women and girls are the last to eat or be rescued, while facing greater health-and-safety risks as water and sanitation become compromised (UN / MINUSTAH / Logan Abassi)

If gender equality is to be more than an International Women’s Day gesture, revenue must be raised for massive investment.

‘We’ve lost everything,’ says Ana, facing her sister Rosa’s hopeless gaze. Both women are over 70 years old and live in Valparaíso in Chile, a region devastated last month by the deadliest forest fires in history. At least 133 people died, and many are still missing.

These domestic workers lost the house they inherited from their parents. In a matter of minutes, the efforts of two generations vanished, consumed by the flames. Like many women without access to the formal financial system, they also lost their life savings, which they kept in cash.

Record-breaking heatwaves, droughts, floods and devastating wildfires have disproportionately affected women like Rosa and Ana around the world. The past year has seen catastrophic fires in the United States, Greece, Nepal, Colombia and Spain, to name just a few cases. Fierce fires were also reported in Venezuela, Ecuador and Colombia. In Brazil, vast areas of tropical forest have been consumed.

In Africa, from Equatorial Guinea to the coastal cities of South Africa, forest fires are forcing the evacuation of many areas. Last month, bushfires in Australia killed livestock, destroyed property and forced 2,000 people to flee towns near Melbourne. It was a reminder of the ‘black summer’ fires of 2019-20, which devastated an area the size of Türkiye, killing 33 people and three billion animals.

Marked by gender

Everywhere, the worsening climate crisis, environmental degradation and extreme weather events, coupled with poor planning and inadequate adaptation measures, are intensifying alarmingly the number of disasters and their victims. Their unequal effects are heavily marked by gender.

Due to structural discrimination and traditional roles, women are disproportionately affected, facing specific, interrelated risks. From obstacles to evacuation due to domestic and care work to the limited capacity for recovery, every aspect of a disaster is marked by gender differences. Unequal access to economic resources, less decision-making power within families and communities, and reduced experience in political participation often result in limited access for women to assistance and support to rebuild their lives after disasters.

To increase women’s resilience in the face of mounting disasters caused by climate change, it is essential to invest in closing the gender gap. The United Nations warns of an alarming funding gap in achieving gender-equality goals. It is staggering: $360 billion is needed annually to fulfil the commitments made by countries under the Agenda 2030 for Development.

At a time when many countries in the global south are struggling with empty coffers, the financing needed to end structural inequality requires greater international co-operation. Today, only 4 per cent of all bilateral aid is allocated to gender equality as its primary objective. This is however not the only alternative.

Increasing ‘fiscal space’

The Independent Commission for the Reform of the International Corporate Taxation System (ICRICT), of which I am a member, argues that all countries, especially developing countries, can increase their ‘fiscal space’ by taxing those with the most wealth: corporations and super-millionaires. A key proposal is to establish a global 2 per cent minimum tax on the wealth of the super-rich. My colleague at ICRICT, the renowned economist Gabriel Zucman, presented this plan to the finance ministers of the G20 in São Paulo last month.

Inspired by the global minimum tax on corporations, the measure would apply to fewer than 3,000 individuals and raise about $250 billion annually. Taxing the ultra-rich, who currently pay almost no taxes, could thus make a huge difference. Making the super-rich—many of whom have benefited from crises—foot the bill is a tool within the reach of our governments, which can have a tremendous impact on social justice. If the global minimum tax for multinational corporations were added, the additional $500 billion needed every year to combat climate change and invest in programmes that close the gender gap and empower women could be realised.

Amid myriad crises, wars, high inflation and heavy debts, investing in gender equality has ceased to be a priority for many governments. Yet social progress cannot be achieved without it. Recognising women as critical players in development strategies is the path towards a more just, inclusive and sustainable society.

Magdalena Sepulveda
Magdalena Sepulveda
  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). From 2008-2014 she was the UN Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights.
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