US Vice-President Kamala Harris. Picture: ERIN SCOTT/ REUTERS
US Vice-President Kamala Harris. Picture: ERIN SCOTT/ REUTERS

US Vice-President Kamala Harris sounded the alarm when she pointed out that 2.5-million women have been forced to leave their jobs since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“[The US] economy cannot fully recover unless women can participate fully. So I believe, I think we all believe, this is a national emergency,” she said in a video call with several women’s advocacy groups and legislators who were calling for a national plan to address the situation.  

While the progress of Covid-19 vaccinations in the US gives hope for a rapid economic recovery, a report by the McKinsey Global Institute has found that women, who make up 43% of the workforce, accounted for 56% of Covid-19-related job losses, with noncollege-educated women and women of colour being disproportionately affected.  

Harris's warning should be extended to the whole world. The pandemic has pushed women out of the labour force everywhere. The longer-term impact will see the gender gap in retirement security  increase.

For many of the women who are still on the workforce their situation has deteriorated. Social isolation has narrowed their options to escape domestic abuse. And many more are now shouldering a much larger burden of unpaid domestic duties than men. Lockdown has added to household work, with women taking care of family health while juggling new safety and hygiene protocols in virus prevention. They have also taken on the primary responsibility of homeschooling children, as well as caring for the sick and the elderly.  

More than ever, the pandemic has brought to the fore the unequal sharing of unpaid care and domestic work, as well as houndervalued and underrecognised it is. It is a significant constraint on women’s progress in education and training and an obstacle to their entry into and advancement in the paid labour market. It hinders 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, aschool 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 celebrates International Women's Day, we must reiterate that this situation is not acceptable, nor is it inevitable.  

All over the world, populations have been forced to become aware of the vital importance of public services such as universal health care, child and adult social care, and education, water and sanitation provision. Women have been providing this vital work during the pandemic, 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 corrective measures  to invest in public services, social protections and 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 the Independent Commission for the Reform of International Corporate Taxation (ICRICT), a commission engaged in reforming the international tax system in a fair and equitable way, our answer is that it’s 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% 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 multinationals' interest in transferring 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 must move in the same direction. International reform tmake 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.  

• Sepúlveda is executive director of the Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and a member of the ICRICT

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