IWD: Taxing the super-rich to close the gender gap, By Magdalena Sepúlveda

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

These sisters are domestic workers and they 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.  In the past year, we have seen the news of 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.

In February, 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 2019/2020, which devastated an area the size of Turkey, killing 33 people and three billion animals.

Everywhere, the worsening climate crisis, environmental degradation, and extreme weather events, coupled with poor planning and inadequate adaptation measures, are alarmingly intensifying 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 impacted, 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.

The unequal access to economic resources, lower decision-making power within their families and communities, and reduced experience in political participation, often result in limited access to assistance and support to rebuild their lives after disasters.

To increase women’s resilience in the face of rising disasters caused by climate change, it is essential to invest in efforts to close the gender gap. Unfortunately, as the United Nations (UN) warns, an alarming funding gap exists in achieving gender equality goals. The gap 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 cooperation. Today, only 4 per cent of all bilateral aid is allocated to gender equality as its primary objective. However, this is not the only alternative.

As a member of the Independent Commission for the Reform of the International Corporate Taxation System (ICRICT), we argue 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, renowned economist Gabriel Zucman, presented this programme to the finance ministers of the G20 who gathered in Sao Paulo, Brazil, in February. Inspired by the global minimum tax on corporations, this measure would apply to less than 3,000 individuals and raise about $250 billion annually.

Taxing the ultra-rich, who currently pay almost no taxes, could make a huge difference. If the global minimum tax for multinational corporations are added, the additional $500 billion needed to combat climate change and invest in programmes that close the gender gap and empower women could be achieved.

Amid the myriad of crises, wars, high inflation rates, and heavy debts, investing in gender equality has ceased to be a priority for many governments. Therefore, as we commemorate International Women’s Day this March, we must remember that social progress cannot be achieved without gender equality. Recognising women as critical players in development strategies is the path towards a more just, inclusive, and sustainable society. Making the super-rich, many of whom have benefited from crises, foot the bill is a tool within the reach of our governments that can have a tremendous impact on social justice.

Magdalena Sepúlveda is a member of the Independent Commission for the Reform of International Corporate Taxation (ICRICT) and Executive Director of the Global Initiative for Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. Former United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights.

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