The Gender Equality, Tax Justice and Economic Growth Conundrum

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By Nyaguthii Wangui Maina*

[This is a series of blog posts on the African Feminist Strategy meeting on Financing for Development & the Post 2015 Development Agenda, the first and second of which can be found here and here, respectively]

A sitting Head of State in Africa in one of the regional economic bloc meetings once made an argument for the ongoing investments in his country; his government was primarily focused on improving economic growth by investing in the ‘productive sectors’ whilst would deal with maternal and child health care issues thereafter. A disgruntled participant in the same meeting interjected and posed the following question to the Head of State.

“How does an economy grow with dead people?”

Principles of taxation depict that for a tax system to make any sense, it should be fair, equitable, transparent, accountable, efficient, effective and at the heart of it all, it should represent citizens as tax payers. If these principles are present then taxation will meet its objectives. Which to name a few are: Raise revenues in an equitable manner; redistribute income and wealth; regulate the economy and society; re-price goods and services; and recognize the role of eco systems. What has however come to light through various studies is that the missing objective has been a gender approach to taxation which in essence levels the field based on needs.

Dr. Attiya Warris, a tax pundit, elucidates in one of her studies the intrinsic link between women, economic growth and tax spending in Africa; the more tax African countries collect from increased economic activity, the more likely they are to be spending it on women. The more they spend it on women, the more their economies and labour force grow. The links are interchangeable and the reverse is true as demonstrated in the table and graphs below:

table.

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“Why is this component among the least discussed in terms of solutions?” she asks.

The Millennium Development Goals are the current and soon to expire global and quantified targets for addressing extreme poverty in its many dimensions and have by and large improved the welfare of women through MDG 3 that has seen in most countries the increased enrolment of girls in school, improved maternal and child health, reduced cases of FGM, teenage pregnancies but to name a few.

With the ushering in of the new Sustainable Development Goals in September, achieving gender equality is still poised as a key driver in steering development as reflected in SDG 5 which is to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. I believe African economies are at the frontline in requiring gender equality if growth trajectories and ambitions are anything to go by; positioning itself as an emerging force in the 21st century.

It is reported the total potential annual economic losses due to gender gaps in labour force participation have been estimated to exceed $255 billion for the sub-Saharan region, and to cost an equivalent of  9% of Africa’s overall GDP growth.But as stated time immemorial, one cannot make a case for gender equality based on economic principles alone. Women’s rights are basic human rights—the rights of each person on the planet to health, education, shelter, and security as pledged in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and expounded by the UN Millennium Declaration Project.

“Absence of value based thinking is contributing to this rising inequality,” says Dr. Attiya. “There is so much more to be done, transformational agendas without transformational leadership are obsolete.”

*Ms Nyaguthii Wangui Maina is a blogger; connect with her on her blog Musings of A People and on Twitter @nm_wangui.

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About FEMNET

FEMNET (The African Women's Development and Communication Network) is a pan African, feminist organisation working to advance the rights of women and girls in Africa. FEMNET has carved a niche in Informing and mobilizing African women in order for them to participate and influence policies and processes that affect their lives. FEMNET has hundreds of members in over 40 countries in Africa as well as in the diaspora. It has played a critical role in building the women's movement in Africa since inception in 1988.

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