People's Stories Equality

Investing in women’s health is essential in the era of polycrises
by UN University for Global Health, GI-ESCR, agencies
Mar. 2024
Investing in women’s health is essential in the era of polycrises, by Johanna Riha, Zaida Orth, Rajat Khosla. (United Nations University International Institute for Global Health)
In a time of overlapping crises that demand urgent attention, prioritising women’s health will benefit everyone
The world is in a state of “polycrises” where multiple economic, environmental, social, and geopolitical shocks have converged and are driving and deepening existing gender inequalities and health inequities.
These polycrises are additionally contributing to backsliding on human rights culminating in devastating effects on women’s and girls’ health worldwide. Steps to prioritise women’s health must be taken to prevent it being neglected among competing priorities.
Globally, the cost-of-living crisis and austerity measures will push over 340 million of the most vulnerable women into poverty by 2030, forcing many to choose between basic human rights like food or medical treatment.
This exacerbates existing gendered gaps in access to healthcare and adversely affects women’s and girl’s ability to stay healthy.
For example, it is currently estimated that 500 million women worldwide lack access to menstrual products and hygiene facilities, with this trend worsening because of ongoing polycrises. Denial of this basic health right forces many, in high and low income countries alike, to avoid work and school, adversely affecting their income and education.
Conflict, climate displacement, and covid-19 are driving worrying increases in gender based violence, child marriage, and female genital mutilation. Pooled survey data from 13 countries with over 16,000 respondents shows that almost half of women report that they or a woman they know has experienced a form of violence since the pandemic.
Additionally, the pandemic fuelled a rise in the unpaid care and domestic work that disproportionately falls on women and girls. Concurrent crises, such as climate change and declining health systems, directly and indirectly affect women’s physical and mental health as they make up 67% of health and care workers and 40% of the total agricultural workforce worldwide.
These polycrises will likely have detrimental effects on the health of future generations. In some cases, intergenerational health effects are well understood (such as the associations between maternal education and infant health), while for others evidence is only beginning to emerge.
Plastic pollution, for example, which accounts for 85% of all marine litter, has disastrous consequences on livelihoods, food security, and health. Microplastics are particularly harmful to the health of women and girls, impacting gestational weight and genital structures in fetuses.
What can be done to prioritise women’s health in the era of polycrises?
On International Women’s Day, as we grapple with how to manage and build resilience in the current climate, the call for continued and increased investment for gender equality and health is imperative. It makes economic, social, political, climate, and public health sense to invest now for a more sustainable and healthier future.
A recent report by the World Economic Forum shows how narrowing of the existing gap in women’s health would avoid 24 million life years lost because of disability, add over $1tn to the global economy, and boost economic productivity by up to $400bn. But actionable steps must be taken to prioritise women’s health, especially given the competing priorities.
We believe that investing in the following three areas is critical.
Firstly, investment in feminist leadership is needed. Although women contribute an estimated $3tn annually to global health, half in the form of unpaid work, and are the backbone of health service delivery, women hold only 25% of health leadership roles.
Having representative leadership is critical to ensure prioritisation of actions that support and empower women in times of polycrises. This leadership must move beyond tokenism and have decision making powers.
With rapidly shrinking civic spaces and growing, well coordinated anti-gender movements, the need for feminist leadership with representation from indigenous women, people with disabilities, and those living in rural, remote, and disaster prone areas is even more acute.
Secondly, support for feminist civil society organisations is needed. Feminist civil society groups have a long history of building knowledge and evidence, advocating for advancements in women’s health, and holding governments and other actors to account.
Feminist movements have been most effective when they form broad coalitions and alliances with other social movements, including trade unions and environmental groups. Increasing investment in feminist civil society organisations, especially to build alliances and bridges between different groups, will help promote women’s health in the face of growing backlash and concurrent crises.
Thirdly, technical capacity to advance sex and gender integration in policies and programmes must increase. Ensuring sex and gender based inequities in health are adequately tackled and not further reinforced—including prevention, preparedness, response, and recovery plans—requires specific technical expertise.
Investing in strengthening this technical capacity, which includes staff with specialised skillsets, contextualised knowledge, and understanding of how intersecting axes of discrimination harm women’s health, can help mitigate inequities and improve health.
For far too long, women’s health has been deprioritised. Now more than ever, investing in women’s health presents an opportunity for a big win for everyone.
* British Medical Journal:
Mar. 2024
Addressing gender inequality in the climate response, by Magdalena Sepulveda.
We’ve lost everything’, says Ana, facing her sister Rosa’s hopeless gaze. Both women are over 70 years old and live in Valparaíso, Chile, a region devastated by the deadliest forest fires in history last February. At least 133 people died, and many are still missing.
These sisters are domestic workers and lost the house they inherited from their parents. In a matter of minutes, the efforts of two generations vanished, consumed by the flames. Like many women without access to the formal financial system, they also lost their life savings, which they kept in cash.
Record-breaking heatwaves, droughts, floods and devastating wildfires have disproportionately affected women like Rosa and Ana all around the world. In the past year, we have seen the news of catastrophic fires in the United States, Greece, Nepal, Colombia and Spain, to name just a few. Fierce fires were also reported in Venezuela, Ecuador and Colombia. In Brazil, vast areas of tropical forest have been consumed. In Africa, from Equatorial Guinea to the coastal cities of South Africa, forest fires are forcing the evacuation of many areas.
In February, bushfires in Australia killed livestock, destroyed property and forced 2 000 people to flee towns near Melbourne. It was a reminder of the ‘Black Summer’ fires of 2019/2020, which devastated an area the size of Turkey, killing 33 people as well as three billion animals.
Everywhere, the worsening climate crisis, environmental degradation and extreme weather events – coupled with poor planning and inadequate adaptation measures – are alarmingly intensifying the number of disasters and their victims. Their unequal effects are heavily marked by gender.
Due to structural discrimination and traditional roles, women are disproportionately impacted, facing specific, interrelated risks. From obstacles to evacuation due to domestic and care work to the limited capacity for recovery, every aspect of a disaster is marked by gender differences.
Women’s unequal access to economic resources, lower decision-making power within their families and communities, and reduced experience in political participation often result in limited access to assistance and support to rebuild their lives after disasters.
To increase women’s resilience in the face of rising disasters caused by climate change, it is essential to invest in efforts to close the gender gap. Unfortunately, as the United Nations warns, an alarming funding gap exists in achieving gender equality goals. The gap is staggering: $360 bn is needed annually to fulfil the commitments made by countries under the Agenda 2030 for Development.
At a time when many countries in the Global South are struggling with empty coffers, the financing needed to end structural inequality requires greater international cooperation. Today, only 4 per cent of all bilateral aid is allocated to gender equality as its primary objective. However, this is not the only alternative.
As a member of the Independent Commission for the Reform of the International Corporate Taxation System (ICRICT), we argue that all countries, especially developing countries, can increase their fiscal space by taxing those with the most wealth: corporations and super millionaires.
A key proposal is to establish a global 2 per cent minimum tax on the wealth of the super-rich. My colleague at ICRICT, renowned economist Gabriel Zucman, presented this programme to the finance ministers of the G20, who gathered in Sao Paulo, Brazil, in February. Inspired by the global minimum tax on corporations, this measure would apply to less than 3 000 individuals and raise about $250 bn annually.
Taxing the ultra-rich, who currently pay almost no taxes, could make a huge difference. If the global minimum tax for multinational corporations were added, the additional $500 bn needed to combat climate change and invest in programmes that close the gender gap and empower women could be achieved.
Like thousands of women living in disaster-stricken areas, the fires have left Ana and Rosa without material possessions. As older women without an adequate pension or social protection benefits, their home was what kept them out of poverty.
Despite that, they have been more fortunate than others who did not survive the tragedy, trapped by poor building conditions and narrow streets, or those in other countries of the region, who have also lost their crops and all means of subsistence.
Amid the myriad of crises, wars, high inflation rates and heavy debts, investing in gender equality has ceased to be a priority for many governments.
Therefore, as we commemorate International Women’s Day this March, we must remember that social progress cannot be achieved without gender equality. Recognising women as critical players in development strategies is the path towards a more just, inclusive and sustainable society.
Making the super-rich, many of whom have benefited from crises, foot the bill is a tool within the reach of our governments that can have a tremendous impact on social justice.
* Magdalena Sepulveda is a member of the Independent Commission for the Reform of International Corporate Taxation (ICRICT) and Executive Director of the Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Previously, she was the United Nations special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights.


Extreme Inequality is a Human Rights Issue
by Oxfam, HRW, Tax Justice Network, agencies
Mar. 2024
The Forbes 2024 Billionaires list reports that the number of worldwide billionaires grew by 141 in the past year, with 2,781 people holding wealth that exceeds $1 billion. These people own combined assets of $14.2 trillion, exceeding the gross domestic product of every country in the world except the U.S. and China.
Their collective wealth has risen by 120% in the past decade, at the same time as billions of people across the world have seen their living standards decrease in the face of inflation and the cost of living crisis.
“It’s been an amazing year for the world’s richest people, with more billionaires around the world than ever before,” said Chase Peterson-Withorn, Forbes’ wealth editor. “Even during times of financial uncertainty for many, the super-rich continue to thrive.”
Daisy Pearson, of the campaign group Global Justice Now, said: “It is utterly unconscionable that at a time where masses of the world’s population are living in dire poverty, a few individuals are allowed to amass staggering wealth. This is only possible through exploitation, and their monopolisation of wealth and resources further allows them to amass huge power and influence over decisions that affect our everyday lives. Enough is enough – we should be regulating these barons out of existence.”
Luke Hildyard, the executive director for the High Pay Centre thinktank, said: “The billionaire list is essentially an annual calculation of how much of the wealth created by the global economy is captured by a tiny caste of oligarchs rather than being used to benefit humanity as a whole. It should be the most urgent mission to spread this wealth more evenly.”
While the global population is "living through incredibly unequal times, lurching from one crisis to the next," says Robert Palmer, executive director of Tax Justice U.K., the richest people in the world amass "extraordinary levels of wealth."
"World leaders need to ensure the super rich are paying their fair share, for example through introducing wealth taxes. This would help provide the resources needed to tackle multiple crises from inequality to climate change."
Feb. 2024
Less than eight cents in every dollar raised in tax revenue in G20 countries now comes from taxes on wealth, reveals new analysis by Oxfam ahead of the first meeting of G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
By comparison, more than 32 cents in every dollar (over four times as much) is collected from taxes on goods and services. Taxes on food and other necessities, for example, shift more of the tax burden onto lower-income families.
Oxfam’s research also found that the share of national income going to the top 1 percent of earners in G20 countries has increased by 45 percent over the last four decades. During the same period, the top tax rates on their incomes has fallen by roughly a third (from around 60 percent in 1980 to 40 percent in 2022).
The top 1 percent of earners in G20 countries made more than $18 trillion in income 2022, a figure higher than the GDP of China.
In countries including Brazil, France, Italy, the UK and US, the super-rich pay an effective tax rate lower than the average worker. G20 countries are home to nearly four out of five of the world’s billionaires.
"In country after country, a war on fair taxation has coincided with a war on democracy, putting more money and power into the hands of a tiny, inequality-fueling elite. As the finance ministers of the world's largest economies gather this week, this contest takes center stage: will they reclaim their democracies by taxing the super-rich?" said Katia Maia, Executive Director of Oxfam Brazil.
Brazil, at the helm of the G20, has plans to forge the first global agreement on taxing the super-rich to reduce global inequality. A recent poll has revealed that nearly three-quarters of millionaires in G20 countries support higher taxes on wealth, and over half think extreme wealth is a “threat to democracy.”
Higher taxes on the wealth and income of the richest could raise the trillions of dollars needed to tackle both inequality and climate breakdown. For example, Oxfam estimates that a wealth tax of up to 5 percent on the G20’s multimillionaires and billionaires could raise nearly $1.5 trillion a year.
This would be enough to end global hunger, help low- and middle-income countries adapt to climate change, and bring the world back on track to meeting the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) —and still leave more than $546 billion to invest in inequality-busting public services and climate action in G20 countries.
“A fair tax system can curb inequality and foster healthier, more inclusive societies,” said Maia. “Higher taxes for the super-rich means being able to invest in working families, protecting the climate, and making important public services like education and healthcare available to all. It also means being able to repair holes in social safety nets, to soften the blow of future crises.”
Jan. 2024
The world’s five richest men have more than doubled their fortunes from $405 billion to $869 billion since 2020 —at a rate of $14 million per hour— while nearly five billion people have been made poorer, reveals a new Oxfam report on inequality and global corporate power. If current trends continue, the world will have its first trillionaire within a decade but poverty won’t be eradicated for another 229 years.
“Inequality Inc.”, published today as business elites gather in the Swiss resort town of Davos, reveals that seven out of ten of the world’s biggest corporations have a billionaire as CEO or principal shareholder. These corporations are worth $10.2 trillion, equivalent to more than the combined GDPs of all countries in Africa and Latin America.
“We’re witnessing the beginnings of a decade of division, with billions of people shouldering the economic shockwaves of pandemic, inflation and war, while billionaires’ fortunes boom. This inequality is no accident; the billionaire class is ensuring corporations deliver more wealth to them at the expense of everyone else,” said Oxfam International interim Executive Director Amitabh Behar.
“Runaway corporate and monopoly power is an inequality-generating machine: through squeezing workers, dodging tax, privatizing the state, and spurring climate breakdown, corporations are funneling endless wealth to their ultra-rich owners. But they’re also funneling power, undermining our democracies and our rights. No corporation or individual should have this much power over our economies and our lives —to be clear, nobody should have a billion dollars”.
The past three years’ supercharged surge in extreme wealth has solidified while global poverty remains mired at pre-pandemic levels. Billionaires are $3.3 trillion richer than in 2020, and their wealth has grown three times faster than the rate of inflation.
Despite representing just 21 percent of the global population, rich countries in the Global North own 69 percent of global wealth and are home to 74 percent of the world’s billionaire wealth.
Share ownership overwhelmingly benefits the richest. The top 1 percent own 43 percent of all global financial assets. They hold 48 percent of financial wealth in the Middle East, 50 percent in Asia and 47 percent in Europe.
Mirroring the fortunes of the super-rich, large firms are set to smash their annual profit records in 2023. 148 of the world’s biggest corporations together raked in $1.8 trillion in total net profits in the year to June 2023, a 52 percent jump compared to average net profits in 2018-2021. Their windfall profits surged to nearly $700 billion. The report finds that for every $100 of profit made by 96 major corporations between July 2022 and June 2023, $82 was paid out to rich shareholders.
Bernard Arnault is the world’s second richest man who presides over luxury goods empire LVMH, which has been fined by France‘s anti-trust body. He also owns France’s biggest media outlet, Les Echos, as well as Le Parisien.
Aliko Dangote, Africa’s richest person, holds a “near-monopoly” on cement in Nigeria. His empire’s expansion into oil has raised concerns about a new private monopoly.
Jeff Bezos’s fortune of $167.4 billion increased by $32.7 billion since the beginning of the decade. The US government has sued Amazon, the source of Bezos’ fortune, for wielding its “monopoly power” to hike prices, degrade service for shoppers and stifle competition.
“Monopolies harm innovation and crush workers and smaller businesses. The world hasn’t forgotten how pharma monopolies deprived millions of people of COVID-19 vaccines, creating a racist vaccine apartheid, while minting a new club of billionaires,” said Behar.
People worldwide are working harder and longer hours, often for poverty wages in precarious and unsafe jobs. The wages of nearly 800 million workers have failed to keep up with inflation and they have lost $1.5 trillion over the last two years, equivalent to nearly a month (25 days) of lost wages for each worker.
New Oxfam analysis of World Benchmarking Alliance data on more than 1,600 of the largest corporations worldwide shows that 0.4 percent of them are publicly committed to paying workers a living wage and support a living wage in their value chains. It would take 1,200 years for a woman working in the health and social sector to earn what the average CEO in the biggest 100 Fortune companies earns in a year.
Oxfam's report also shows how a "war on taxation" by corporations has seen the effective corporate tax rate fall by roughly a third in recent decades, while corporations have relentlessly privatized the public sector and segregated services like education and water.
“We have the evidence. We know the history. Public power can rein in runaway corporate power and inequality —shaping the market to be fairer and free from billionaire control.
Governments must intervene to break up monopolies, empower workers, tax these massive corporate profits and, crucially, invest in a new era of public goods and services,” said Behar.
“Every corporation has a responsibility to act but very few are. Governments must step up. There is action that lawmakers can learn from, from US anti-monopoly government enforcers suing Amazon in a landmark case, to the European Commission wanting Google to break up its online advertising business, and Africa’s historic fight to reshape international tax rules.”
Oxfam is calling on governments to rapidly and radically reduce the gap between the super-rich and the rest of society by:
Revitalizing the state. A dynamic and effective state is the best bulwark against extreme corporate power. Governments should ensure universal provision of healthcare and education, and explore publicly-delivered goods and public options in sectors from energy to transportation.
Reining in corporate power, including by breaking up monopolies and democratizing patent rules. This also means legislating for living wages, capping CEO pay, and new taxes on the super-rich and corporations, including permanent wealth and excess profit taxes. Oxfam estimates that a wealth tax on the world’s millionaires and billionaires could generate $1.8 trillion a year.
Reinventing business. Competitive and profitable businesses don’t have to be shackled by shareholder greed. Democratically-owned businesses better equalize the proceeds of business. If just 10 percent of US businesses were employee-owned, this could double the wealth share of the poorest half of the US population, including doubling the average wealth of Black households.
Jan. 2024
Asked about the status of women in a world of rising economic inequalities, Rebecca Riddell, policy lead for economic and racial justice at Oxfam America, told IPS: “Women pay the highest price for a broken global economy”.
Globally, she pointed out, men own US$105 trillion more wealth than women—equivalent to more than four times the size of the US economy—and women earn just 51 cents for every $1 made by men.
“Women are also especially harmed by the policies that fuel our inequality crisis, like tax breaks for the rich and cuts to public services,” said Riddell, one of the authors of the Oxfam report on inequality and global corporate power.
They carry out the vast majority of unpaid care work, which is vital to keeping our communities and economies afloat, and their labor is constantly undervalued in the workplace, she noted.
“We found it would take 1,200 years for women working in the health and social sector to earn what the average CEO at the biggest Fortune 100 companies makes in just one year,” declared Riddell.
Jan. 2024
Extreme Inequality is a Human Rights Issue, by Andrew Stroehlein for Human Rights Watch
As the annual gathering of the extreme elite kicks off in Davos today, I’m reminded of an argument I often have with an old friend.
It always starts with some news item about the number of billionaires somewhere: “the US is doing great – look at the number of billionaires they have!” Or, “you can see China’s getting better by the increasing number of billionaires there.” Or, “Look at the number of billionaires in India now!”
The prospect of the world’s first trillionaire has him almost unbearably excited: “Who will it be?”
To these friendly provocations, I eventually crack and respond with something like: does humanity really need a trillionaire? In what way will the world be a better place when someone becomes the first trillionaire?
Then, I remind him that the number of super-rich people says nothing about the greatness of a country. Greatness, to me, has far more to do with the overall happiness of its population. Some say billionaires create wealth (and therefore happiness, in their eyes), but, practically by definition, it looks more like they’re hoarding it.
Vast riches have always sparked admiration among many folks like my friend, but they’ve also increased envy and resentment among others. A system perceived as unfairly benefitting a tiny few while the vast majority are essentially told to live on the scraps of what the rich leave behind doesn’t sound like a stable system to me. I don’t see any national benefit there.
What’s more, extreme inequality is a human rights issue. Among other things, it contributes to corruption and mismanagement of public resources, which further reduces access to the keys to a dignified life: affordable healthcare, quality education, adequate housing, a living wage, social protection, and safe drinking water.
Human Rights Watch research frequently exposes how people in poverty are often more vulnerable to having their rights violated. Extreme disparities in wealth mean extreme disparities in power, and thus a greater potential for human rights abuses, which, of course, tends to happen more to those without power than to those with it.
To coincide with the start of billionaires’ private jets arriving for the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland, Oxfam has published a new report on global inequality. It reads: “Since 2020, the richest five men in the world have doubled their fortunes. During the same period, almost five billion people globally have become poorer. Hardship and hunger are a daily reality for many people worldwide. At current rates, it will take 230 years to end poverty, but we could have our first trillionaire in 10 years.” That doesn’t sound like greatness to me.
Oct. 2023
Small global billionaire tax could yield $250 billion annually, reports the EU Tax Observatory
Governments should clampdown on tax evasion by billionaires by introducing a global minimum wealth tax which could raise $250 billion annually, the EU Tax Observatory said on Monday.
If levied, the sum would be equivalent to only 2% of the nearly $13 trillion in wealth owned by the 2,700 billionaires globally, the research group hosted at the Paris School of Economics said.
Currently billionaires' effective personal tax is often far less than what other taxpayers of more modest means pay because they can park wealth in shell companies sheltering them from income tax, the group said in its 2024 Global Tax Evasion Report.
"In our view, this is difficult to justify because it undermines the sustainability of tax systems and the social acceptability of taxation," the observatory's director Gabriel Zucman told journalists.
Billionaires have been operating on the “border of legality” in using shell companies to avoid tax and the world’s wealthiest individuals should be charged a 2% levy on their wealth, the report states.
Billionaires have been pushing the limits of the law by moving certain types of income, including dividends from company shares, through dedicated holding companies that usually serve no other purpose.
“These holding companies are in a grey zone between avoidance and evasion,” the report said. “To the extent that they are created with the purpose of avoiding the income tax, they can legitimately be seen as closer to evasion.”
These types of loopholes allow the super-rich to avoid certain forms of income tax, resulting in effective tax rates worth just 0%-0.6% of their total wealth, the report found. Billionaires' personal tax in the United States is estimated to be close to just 0.5% and as low as zero in France, the Observatory estimated.
Shell companies can also stand in as nominal owners for luxury properties in expensive cities such as London. “Real estate continues to provide ample opportunities for the rich to avoid and evade taxes,” the report said.
The shell companies also fall outside the tools that have so far been used to combat tax avoidance, including the automatic exchange of banking information, which is followed by more than 100 countries.
“To date no serious attempt has been made to address this situation, which risks undermining the social acceptability of existing tax systems,” the report said.
The Observatory, which deployed more than 100 researchers to gather the report’s data, is calling on global leaders to use the next G20 summit in Brazil in November 2024 to launch talks over a global minimum 2% annual tax to be levied on the wealth – rather than the income – of the world’s richest people.
The idea is based on the 2021 agreement between 140 countries and territories to impose a global minimum tax rate of 15% on the biggest multinational companies.
Zucman said: “This is the logical next step after the global minimum tax on multinational companies – which demonstrates that it is possible for countries to agree on minimum tax rates.”
He said minimum rates were the most powerful tools to address loopholes in existing tax systems because they ensure that no matter what the avoidance measures used, the tax collected cannot fall below a set amount.
The reform is far from perfect. The search for a broad consensus led to the application of a relatively low global tax rate (rather than a base rate of 25% many recommended), accompanied by numerous exemptions that limit its scope.
Commenting on the report, Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz said: “Tax evasion, and, more broadly, tax avoidance, is not inevitable; it is the result of policy choices – or the failure to make policy choices that act to stop it.”
He said that a billionaire’s tax would help governments fund important services such as education, infrastructure and technology, and soften the blow of oncoming crises, including future pandemics, and those linked to extreme weather events as a result of the climate crisis.
“So many people struggle to make ends meet yet pay the taxes their governments ask of them,” Stiglitz said. “We need to make sure those at the top of the income ladder who certainly have the financial means don’t wriggle out of them.”
The Observatory also warned about other looming risks for tax revenues, including in the area of green energy subsidies. The report explained that a race for green energy producers was resulting in much larger tax exemptions that could more than offset the gains made by the newly enforced modest 15% minimum corporate tax rate. While it has the potential to accelerate a country’s transition to zero-carbon emissions, the Observatory said it raises some of the same issues as standard tax competition.
“It depletes government revenues, and if not accompanied by egalitarian measures, it risks increasing inequality by boosting the after-tax profits of shareholders, who tend to be towards the top of the income distribution.”
In the absence of a broad international agreement for a minimum tax on billionaires, Zucman said a “coalition of willing countries” could unilaterally lead the way.


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