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Picture: 123RF/AURIELAKI
Picture: 123RF/AURIELAKI

I say this with a smile, because this is a phrase I never thought I would utter, and it gives me great satisfaction: on this International Women’s Day let’s look at Chile. In this country where I grew up, notable for its conservatism and extreme neoliberalism, the winds of hope are blowing, largely thanks to the feminist movement.

The symbols are evident: on March 11 a new government took office in which women are in the majority and will be in charge of ministries such as the interior, foreign affairs and justice, something never seen before. It is a step forward that comes after a long feminist resistance, which has had as its milestones the election of the first woman president, Michelle Bachelet in 2006, and the articulation of social movements around social rights, such as education and sexual and reproductive health, where young women played a key role.

But where Chile can really take a step forward — and set an example — is in the drafting of its new constitution.

In response to the large social mobilisations that emerged in October 2019 to protest against inequalities and demand a dignified life for all, political leaders agreed to organise a referendum to initiate the creation of a new constitution. The aim was to put an end to the text adopted during the dictatorship of Gen Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990), which imposed an economic and social model that has mainly benefited an elite.

Since then it has been a whirlwind: a constitutional convention with gender parity was elected, reflecting the country’s diversity and showing a profound change in the profiles of the country’s decision makers. Though its work has not been without criticism, it has given rise to huge civil society participation, and, in the norms that have been discussed so far, it is clear that the constitutional convention seems to be on target to deliver the world’s first green and feminist constitution.

What is a feminist constitution? Is it enough to include the principles of gender parity, enshrine sexual and reproductive rights and include the right to a life free of violence? All the above is necessary, but it is not enough to earn that label.

The new constitution must lay the groundwork for addressing gender inequality in a comprehensive manner, including ensuring adequate funding for public services, infrastructure and social protection that take into account women’s particular needs. It also requires making the richest and multinationals contribute fairly, through taxation. 

Unpaid contributions

The Covid-19 pandemic has made it clear that much of the work involved in maintaining the health and wellbeing of children, the elderly and other family members is done by women on an unpaid basis. Women spend on average 3.2 times more time than men on unpaid care work, four hours and 25 minutes a day compared to one hour and 23 minutes for men. When attempts have been made to measure the monetary value of these unpaid contributions by women, this figure rises to a staggering $11-trillion a year or 9% of global GDP.

The health crisis has only worsened gender inequalities. In the last two years job losses have hit women particularly hard, often pushing them out of the labour market. Those working in the informal sector, from domestic workers to agricultural labourers, are the first to be affected. Covid-19 drove an additional 97-million people into extreme poverty in 2020, according to World Bank estimates, the majority of whom are women.

It is not just the economic consequences. In Africa, as in most of the world, all type of violence against women and girls have intensified. Also, efforts to end child marriage have been disrupted by the pandemic, which could result in an additional total 13-million child marriages taking place that otherwise would not have occurred between 2020 and 2030.

After two years of a pandemic that has not yet come to an end, it is not a question of returning to the “normality” that has produced so much inequality and poverty. It is urgent to build more sustainable, more inclusive and greener economies, economies that support women and prioritise investments in care.

Fair taxation of wealth

These efforts come at a cost. States, which have spent so much in response to the pandemic, must not only recover their resources but increase them to finance this turnaround. One of the avenues is to consider fair taxation of wealth and capital income and to attack tax avoidance by multinationals and the richest, who have never been richer. The combined wealth of all billionaires, estimated at $5-trillion on the eve of the pandemic, is at a high of $13.8-trillion. It is crucial to end the race to the bottom in nominal corporate tax rates, which have fallen from an average of 40% in the 1980s to 23% in 2018.

It is clear that greater progressivity needs to be introduced into tax systems around the world, which means advocating that revenue should rely more heavily on direct taxes with greater capacity to reduce inequalities, and that tax rates should depend on the level of income or wealth. In essence, richer citizens and companies should contribute more, because they have greater capacity.

Here too Chile can show us the way. The Red Ciudadana de Justicia Fiscal para Chile, a mobilised part of civil society, is calling for the new constitution to take up this principle of progressive taxation and to be a transformative force for redistributing wealth. In this way, it would break with the culture of privilege, guarantee transparency and, for the first time, even consider the responsibility of solidarity in international taxation.

Of course, adopting a new constitution is not enough. Its principles must be translated into laws and public policies, supported by the government and congress. But a constitutional text defines the foundations of society. In Chile, as elsewhere, inequalities and social tensions have become unbearable, and are worsened by the climate emergency. There is an urgent need to change the development model to move towards a caring and inclusive society that places gender equality at the centre and recognises the interdependence between people and the environment.

• Sepúlveda is executive director of the Global Initiative for Economic, Social & Cultural Rights and a member of the Independent Commission on International Corporate Tax Reform. From 2008-2014 she was the UN Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty & Human Rights.

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