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Bridging the gap – gender mainstreaming in tax policy - Sekti Widihartanto

Tan KW
Publish date: Thu, 30 Nov 2023, 11:50 AM
Tan KW
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IN the keynote speech she delivered at a gender mainstreaming seminar on Nov 24, Indonesian Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati said that in her PhD thesis in 1988, even with limited data for the Indonesian context at the time, she found that although tax policy was made gender-neutral, it impacted men and women differently because men and women are different, and these differences require different policy responses.

This is why it is important to involve gender mainstreaming in formulating public policies, including economic policies.

In the intricate tapestry of economic policy, gender mainstreaming has emerged as a crucial lens through which we can address disparities and foster inclusivity.

One arena where this becomes particularly evident is tax policy. Far beyond mere fiscal strategies, tax policies wield immense influence in shaping societal structures.

Examining their implications through a gender mainstreaming perspective unveils a nuanced narrative of how these policies can either perpetuate inequalities or pave the way for a more equitable society.

At its core, gender mainstreaming seeks to integrate gender consideration into every stage of policy development, implementation and evaluation.

When applied to tax policies, this approach involves scrutinising the impacts of taxation on different genders and acknowledging the unique economic roles that men and women often play.

Historically, tax policies have been crafted with a one-size-fits-all mentality, which we call gender neutral but which inadvertently neglects the diverse economic realities faced by different genders.

Consider the often-cited gender wage gap, where women, on average, earn less than their male counterparts for the same work. A gender mainstreaming lens prompts us to question how tax policies may exacerbate this gap.

For instance, if tax brackets are not adjusted to reflect this income disparity, women may end up shouldering a disproportionate tax burden. This not only deepens economic inequalities but also contradicts the fundamental principles of fairness that tax systems should uphold.

Furthermore, the intersectionality of gender and other social factors, such as race and class, add layers of complexity to the analysis.

Women from marginalised communities may face unique challenges that demand a tailored tax approach.

Gender mainstreaming, therefore, calls for a nuanced understanding of these intersecting factors to ensure that tax policies do not inadvertently perpetuate systemic inequalities.

Beyond income differentials, gender mainstreaming in tax policies necessitates an exploration of the overlooked realm of unpaid care work.

Women, as primary caregivers in many societies, contribute significantly to the economy through unpaid domestic labour.

Traditional tax policies, however, fail to account for this invisible contribution.

By recognising the economic value of unpaid care work and adjusting tax policies accordingly, we can take a substantial step toward rectifying the gender imbalances ingrained in our fiscal systems.

Moreover, the financial autonomy of women is intimately connected to tax policies.

A gender-sensitive tax system should empower women economically by fostering entrepreneurship and recognising the unique challenges faced by female-owned businesses.

By providing targeted incentives and reducing barriers, tax policies can become a catalyst for women’s economic empowerment, contributing not only to their financial well-being but also to the overall economic growth of a society.

Critics might argue that gender mainstreaming in tax policies could lead to complexity and administrative challenges.

However, proponents counter that the long-term benefits, in terms of a more inclusive and just society, far outweigh the initial hurdles.

Moreover, the integration of gender consideration into tax policies aligns with the broader global agenda of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly Goal 5 on gender equality.

In summary, gender mainstreaming in tax policies is not a mere theoretical construct but a pragmatic imperative.

It requires a paradigm shift from viewing taxation through a gender-neutral lens to recognising its profound implications on diverse economic experiences.

By dismantling the gender biases ingrained in our fiscal systems, we pave the way for a more equitable and sustainable future where everyone, regardless of their gender, can fully participate in and benefit from economic prosperity.


 - ANN


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