Dates and Venue – 28-30 November 2018, Hanoi

As is now customary, participants were given five minutes to talk to individual sitting next to one, and then each participant introduced each other. After this organizers welcomed participants and expressed their expectations from this meeting as follows –

  • Learning – Gender and tax
  • Sharing – Experiences with each other in one’s country
  • Planning – Strategy at national, regional and global level

Hoang Phuong Thao, Country Director ActionAid Vietnam gave an introductory address putting the meeting in perspective of the following –

  • Tax and Non-tax barriers
  • Vietnam is No 2 in Asia in terms of attracting investors consequently regulations have been weakened to attract investment.
  • AAI is focusing on public services quality and accountability. Countries like Bangladesh and India have done a lot of work on this – others have not done as much.

Marcello from AAI said that AA is developing a new global campaign. This is a coordinated collective initiative – not just an ActionAid campaign. He started by giving an overview of “Global Campaign on Women’s Labour, Decent Work and Public Services” He said that the work focused on paid and unpaid labour to women engaged in domestic, agriculture and social fields. He said the keys to achieve it are embedded in following three elements –

  • Recognize, Reduce and Redistribute work load on women
  • Right to work and to work
  • Incorporate all women engaged as labour in formal and informal sector

He also mentioned that the campaign goals should be –

  • Building collective power and voices
  • Challenge neoliberalism
  • Advocate for progressive policies/programs at all levels

Marcello further identified strategies which demand more concerted work by Campaign alliance and National Campaign Development Process –

  • Gender based violence (GBV)
  • Macroeconomic polies’ impacts on women
  • Extension of social protection at global and national levels
  • Minimum living wages to address pay-disparity and pay-gap
  • Women in public services and provision of care need special attention
  • Adherence to human right conventions

He further elaborated on areas of international engagements, like –

  • Commission for Status of Women 2019
  • Agenda 2030 and SDGs
  • ILO
  • Human Rights Council and OHCHR
  • IMF and World Bank

He further suggested a few important points for the campaign in 2019 –

  • Launch Alliance and Joint Declaration
  • Online and offline crowd-funding
  • 2-pager on ‘Why Campaign and Why Now
  • Popular educational material – video, leaflet, pamphlet etc.
  • Mobilization during key international moments and events in respective nations by participants through meetings, marches, etc.
  • Petition signing initiatives
  • Case studies and their result be popularized
  • Postings in mainstream media and social media
  • Launch campaign on 8 March 2019

Soren from AAI talked on “Fiscal Spaces for Public Services.” He began by mentioning AA’s work on tax justice which began in 2003 by forming Tax Justice Network in UK which was also followed by Christian Aid in 2004-2005.Some of the major campaigns of AA were –

  • Why SABMiller should stop dodging taxes in Africa (AA UK 20120)
  • East Africa racing to bottom (AAI 2011-2013)

He said that results in these efforts led to initiate Tax Power Campaign in 2012-2013, with following tenets, describing–

  • It works in 18 countries, major concentration in Africa
  • Focus on corporate taxation
  • Tax incentives and their impacts
  • Tax treaties between rich and poor countries as a tool of exploitation (Mistreated 2016). For example, OECD, an association of 35 countries frames tax rules, which though are not binding in written words but almost mandatory to implement otherwise the bilateral and multilateral assistance to non-implementing nation will suddenly difficult to get.
  • Issues related with global governance, accountability and transparency
  • Size, Share, Sensitivity, Scrutiny
  • Revenue sources for governments: aid, tax, fees and fines, royalties, investments/loan repayments, bond sales, inter-governmental payments, etc.

He talked about the progressive taxation tenets of which are – VAT, Excise Tax, Taxation of informal Sector, Trade Tax, Wealth Tax, Property Tax, Capital Gain Tax, Personal Income Tax and Corporate Income Tax.

Continuing with the fiscal spaces, he elaborated on the constraints of national budget and reasons behind it –

  • Poor prioritization:
    • due to low level of citizens’ participation,
    • military expenses,
    • debt-based expensive infrastructure,
    • ever-expanding governance structure
  • Debt:
    • First priority payment (primary reason of crisis in Africa)
  • Economic Orthodoxy:
  • Austerity curbing public spending
  • Privatization/liberalization
  • Low inflation/deficit
  • WTO related issues
  • Privatization
  • Liberalization
  • Recolonization
    • Earlier British, French, Spanish and Portuguese
    • Now it is primarily China (since last 20 years)
  • Debt Crisis
    • Earlier it was through SAP by World Bank and IMF
    • Now it is more complex with China pushing nations in debt crisis
  • In the end he stated that we should always keep on scrutinizing policies of some critical multilateral banks and international organizations like, IMF, WB, OECD, Main MNCs, TNCs, Finance Ministries development ministries, executive, African Union, European Union, other regional bodies, etc.

During the discussion, Sabri from Action Aid Bangladesh said from developing countries’ point of view some other issues need to be added like, corruption, personification of issue, national goals and Law Makers’ goals. He also referred to ‘Fiscal Debt’, an Action Aid report. He said IMF’s ‘conditionality’ and ‘devaluation of currency’ aimed to limit spending and inflation control failed to achieve their objectives.

Arun K Singh from Environics Trust India spoke about SAP pursued religiously by WB and IMF. He said owing to mounting pressure from borrowing nations over SAP, World Bank was forced to appoint an in-house impact assessment team. It conducted detailed analysis in 105 countries implementing SAP. The findings revealed that in 95 countries results were negative, in 5 countries there was no change and in only 5 countries positive results were noted. However in the very next line, report specifically says that in these last 5 countries internal fiscal policies and financial regulations of each country was more responsible for the success of SAP, rather than WB and IMF policies. Arun K Singh raised the issue of privatization and pointed out that it is an integral part of WTO legislation and all 180 members must change their programs, policies and laws in congruence with WTO legislation otherwise face cross penalties and trade barriers from other member-nations. He said that it was under this policy that city water supply in Berlin was privatized, in spite of running in profits and subsequently post-privatization it sank with heavy debt. He gave another example of South East Asian financial crisis in mid-late 1990s. IMF tried to stabilize economy of 5 countries by infusing more than US $ 220 billion yet failed to tackle it, because the roots of this crisis were political and only political solution were needed to resolve it.

Joy Hermander, Global Alliance for Tax Justice, began by saying Asia is the global factory often called “continent of labor”, “factory Asia”, “informalization of labor”, etc. she gave a snapshot of women at work

  • women are more likely to be unemployed than men
  • women are overrepresented as contributing family members
  • women represent less than 40% of the total employment
  • women spend more time on unpaid care work

Regarding the ‘unpaid care work’ she said –

  • Unpaid work is important for paid economies to function
  • 3 R: Recognize, Reduce and Redistribute care work
  • SDG 2015 target “recognize and value unpaid care and domestic work through the provision of public services”
  • Fiscal policies, role of state

Joy Hermander specifically stated that women’s cheap and unpaid labour is providing huge subsidy to global economy.

She then covered the issue of paid employment –

  • Gender differences exist in paid employment: women earn less than men, more women in informal employment
  • Women are not likely to bear a large share of PIT but indirect tax impact women more than men
  • Gender differences in household decision- making
  • Gender differences in property rights and asset ownership
  • Gender bias in tax systems:
  • Explicit gender bias (when tax systems explicitly treats women and men differently)
  • Implicit bias (when tax systems seems to be treating women and men equally, but actually have unequal impact)
  • VAT/GST imposed on goods mostly used by women
  • Personal tax on single-headed house hold adversely affects women
  • Tax collection at source too affects women more, as their income is more irregular

Joy also talked about reducing tax burdens on women –

  • 3 R UCW: tax credits for UCW, provision of GRPS
  • Reducing regressity of taxation while ensuring substantive equality: VAT refunds for low-income groups; lower PIT for single-headed households

She concluded by emphasizing the need to make tax system gender-neutral.

Arun Kumar Singh, Environics Trust, India, began by saying WTO now decides the major economic choices for its 180 member-nations, impacting lives and livelihood of millions of traditionally-skilled workers. For example, introduction of synthetic fiber in India, mandatory under WTO legislation, relegated thousands of handloom workers jobless overnight. He then discussed the introduction of GST, aimed at uniform tax structure throughout the country and how it has played its role affecting women workers adversely. The Zari-Zardari (a special kind of embroidery) work in which tens of hundreds women of Bareilly district (Uttar Pradesh, India) are engaged, have been stuck by thunderbolt of GST. Because under the GST regime, raw material required is taxed at 18% and then the finished product too is taxed at another 18%, thus it is no more cost-effective.

He continued to show how the well-intended women incentives become a threat to the women in India. In India, many states have introduced provision that any property – house, land, shop, etc. – if registered under wife’s name then 10% to 20% rebate/concession will be given in registration tax/fee. However, in almost all cases the property papers continue to be in the possession of husband and cases have also come to light where wives have been found dead in mysteriously, as after her death husband become the rightful owner.

He also mentioned the case of sanitary napkins which are taxed at 18% under GST and this posed a grave threat to many self-help groups (SHGs) involved in sanitary napkin units at small level. Under the nation-wide anger and protest, the government reduced it to 8% but it does not solve the problem of SHGs, as they have to compete with the sanitary napkins manufactured by big companies – obviously it is an uneven playing field!

He further brought the issue of number of income-tax filers in India. It was 5.43 crore (54.3 millions) in 2016-17 which increased to nearly 6.84 crore (68.4 millions) in 2017-18. The numbers may look impressive but within the overall population of 1320 million/1.32 billion (most recent UN estimate as on 17 September 2018), it remain a very poor percentage. It is not officially known how many women are among the tax-paying category. He also discussed the conditions of women engaged as agricultural labour which are most vulnerable among women workers.

In the last, he pointed out the manner in which financial incentives to women are shown in the budget. For example, if in a particular year incentives of Rs. 630 Crore is given to women spread over various categories, then in the budget it will be placed under ‘Revenue Forgone’! It surely reflects gender bias in the budget.

Sabri from Action Aid Bangladesh presented the tax landscape of Bangladesh and covered ActionAid’s tax works and its relevance –

  • UCW: so far as standalone initiative, focus on behavior change of community and local level advocacy, need for Tax- women interface study
  • Decent work: campaign for gender-friendly and safe workplace; campaign for labor-friendly budget, road show in spirit with 16 DOAs
  • Policy conference on inclusiveness and GRPS: safe cities for women, inclusive and GRPS, governing PS, financing PS
  • Citizen’s Tax Tribunal: hearing one focus on implication of VAT on people; hearing to impact on corporate tax avoidance

Saroj from Action Aid Nepal talked about taxation in Nepal –

  • Nepal levies a wide variety of taxes like: income tax, VAT, exercise duty, custom duty, and property related tax
  • CIT: 30%, some special priority sector: 20%
  • VAT rate: 13%
  • Source of revenue
  • Percentage of tax incentives by cluster
  • Facts related to women’s labor and decent work: minimum wage rate: NPR 13,450/month = 117 USD

Prakarsa, Indonesia presented an overview of situation in Indonesia –

Need assessment survey on decent work (youth and women):

  • High school graduates have no relevant skills to find job
  • Training does not guarantee job placement
  • 2/3 employees are underpaid
  • Employees have no bargaining power on wage
  • 79% employees do not have a work contract

Job security: self-employee (informal worker)

  • 50% of self-employees earn lower minimum wage

Tax Justice: Why increasing tax for rich matters?

  • Identify and calculate how much loss for illicit financial flow

Central government is spending by function, which is progressive but insufficient.

Towards the end, the representative from Prakarsa said that we are also engaged on illicit financial flows and are working to carry research aimed at identifying which cooperation/s are involved in illicit financial flow and then publish it to make public pressure. Transparency and accountability issues needs to be addressed.

Action Aid Indonesia also made a presentation, highlights of which are given below in bullet points.

  • AA Indonesia has not worked on tax issues
  • Social spending good but not enough
  • 2nd lowest tax ratio in Southeast Asia

However, he pointed out to the programs which are women-oriented, like –

  • Ensure the decent toilet for girls
  • Works with healthy cadre: monitor maternal and child health, do public education, increase involvement of fathers in child health centre
  • Emergency response on earthquake in Palu: provide safe and secure space for women to meet and talk, provide psychosocial support for women, provide legal support and advice for GBV cases
  • Case study research: advocacy process on Indonesian Migrant Workers Law

 Strong legal framework

  • Philippines second country in Asia to practice gender-responsive budgeting
  • Second country that ratified convention on domestic workers
  • Strong law on sexual harassment in the workplace

The realities are that despite the strong laws, the patriarchal culture is still strong. Discrimination still takes place. Women’s labour force participation hovers around 25-30%. In the workplace, the glass ceiling is still there – even in the bureaucracy where there is strong employment of women. So even women in the formal economy, we see participation is not equal at all ranks. Women also have a disproportionate share in the informal economy.  Women’s share of land and property titles is less than 30%. Women’s participation in decision making at state level hovers 22-31% and doesn’t mean lawmaking structures are gender responsive.

Strong trend of women in vulnerable employment – feminization of migration and care work. Women’s groups in Philippines are among those that have raised the issue of international division of labour where countries in the South are the providers of care all over the world.

Women’s situation in Philippines was described in two sections – first covering the labour force and second in relation to tax issues and the highlights of both the sections are given below.

Factors to look at on women’s labour force participation:

  • High fertility rate – only recently adopted a reproductive health law.
  • One of the highest rates of teen pregnancy, and fastest rates of HIV/AIDS, especially among youth
  • Issue of access to essential and critical public services is very important
  • GBV against women – 1 in 5 – higher in poorer areas and among Indigenous populations.
  • Women spend 2.5 hours more than men on reproductive care work.

Tax issues in focus

  • Tax/GDP ratio expected to raise to 60% this year. PIT is at 35% which is up, CIT is 30% (although there are many incentives so many pay less), VAT is 12% as is sales tax.
  • New law TRAIN: Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion. Recent protests against this law and the VAT. Includes deceptive provisions – e.g.: widened coverage of businesses not included in tax exemptions = but left an open window for review of the exemptions. Health cards will also be taxed.
  • Corporate tax abuses
  • Gender budgeting law says 5% budgets must be set aside for gender responsive outcomes. But in practice this doesn’t happen.
  • Women in Special Economic Zones is also an issue – women workers have very basic issues to prioritize – right to unionize; wage increases

The primary issue that emerges is how to link tax justice campaigns with the issue of reducing the tax burden on women.

Action Aid Australia talked about the country position covering the following –

Mainstreaming gender considerations in trade: engaged in submission to CPTPP inquiry, submission to Pacer Plus inquiry


  • Engaged in beneficiary ownership, mandatory disclosure
  • Hope to engage in the future: limiting tax avoidance of large Australian companies operating in low income countries

ILO negotiations:

  • Advocate government support ILO convention on against GBV at workplace

Migration scheme

Un Binding Instrument on Business and Human Rights

Implementation: support 110 activists around countries- activist network

Regarding the ILO Convention against GBV at workplace, Marcelo shared the on situation mapping.

Situation in Myanmar was described by a pair of young social workers and the key points of their talk are summarized below –

  • Most revenue comes from two main kinds of tax – income tax and commercial tax (80% of revenue)
  • ActionAid Myanmar conducted research on education financing. Found that the general population has low awareness on tax compliance.
  • 2017-18 Fiscal year: spending on social welfare and resettlement very low – only 0.25%
  • In Myanmar, just beginning to popularize the concept of gender budgeting, GRPS, unpaid care work and decent work.
  • Many organizations are advocating on women’s rights and women’s leadership – only 16% of women in parliament.
  • Have had a lot of success working on GBV.
  • Now we are seeing many cases coming up through social media – online and offline.
  • National Strategic Plan for Advancement of Women: organizations contributing to and monitoring government’s commitment.
  • Working on Safe Space for Women (E.g.: Safe City Campaign nearby garment factory
  • Also working on living wages

In the last, Program Manager, ActionAid Vietnam Thuy presented an overview of the national scenario of women’s position and the salient points of her talk are summarized below.

  • In last 25 years Vietnam has transformed from the poorest country to a middle income country
  • Economic growth has been accompanied with tax growth, hand in hand
  • Tax incentives in Vietnam are difficult to quantify and hence impacts of tax incentives too are difficult to assess
  • Corporate tax incentives are of not much help
  • Tax and gender responsive services are required in Vietnam
  • Debt over Vietnam is increasing at a faster rate
  • Tax and women labour: US $ 40 million Garment sector mostly employing women, but its share to national tax revenues is barely 0.1%
  • Regarding unpaid care work ActionAid Vietnam has prepared three reports (2016, 2017 and 2018) which are available at its website
  • Lack of public services has resulted in the increased unpaid care work
  • Priority on decent work and GRPS in CSP VI 2018-2023
  • Initiatives to end GBV
  • Promoting social rights for migrant female workers in Vietnam
  • CPTPP (Trans Pacific Partnership – a multilateral body) should look into and take care of the issues concerning women and tax

 After the day long deliberations, common themes which emerged are listed below –

  • Low wages
  • Gender-responsive public services
  • Unpaid care work
  • Legal framework – tax justice and women’s rights
  • Social protection
  • How tax, women’s labour, decent work link to SDGs
  • GBV at the workplace
  • Informal workers
  • Binding treaty on business and human rights
  • Women in vulnerable employment: restricted spaces for women workers organizing

Chalking out strategy for future

The next two days were solely devoted to a number of group exercise based on the issues which emerged on first day. A crucial step in the last day was to chalk out a strategy and action plan for the coming year, as well as immediate tasks till 8 March 2019, culminating with International Women’s Day.

On the last session of last day, all participants were divided in two groups and were told to design a one-page newspaper, focussing on women’s issues and final outcome was preparation of two newspapers by two groups.

Author Arun Kumar Singh