Verónica Montúfar, Gender Equality Officer for Public Services International (PSI), analyses a recent case study (Peru) on the impact of tax evasion and avoidance on public services provided to women and girls 2006-2016 and its contribution to the discussion on gender within this global union federation.
By Verónica Montúfar*
The report “Servicios públicos básicos, evasión y elusión tributaria 2006-2016: impacto en las mujeres y niñas. El caso del Perú” (Basic Public Services – Tax Evasion and Avoidance 2006-2016: The Impact on Women and Girls: The Case of Peru), published by the PSI in Peru and launched on Public Service Day, 23 June, describes how there is necessarily a relationship between taxation, public investment and gender equality but that this relationship is flawed and dysfunctional.
The study transcends national borders and is a useful contribution to achieving a more profound understanding of these relations and developing PSI policy on how to deal with these three issues in a gender-sensitive way.
Let us focus initially on the three issues separately:
The report analyses tax evasion and avoidance over a period of time that is short but long enough to show, despite a methodology that quantifies evasion and avoidance in a single parameter of measurements, that had the Peruvian government managed taxation efficiently, it could have increased public investment by 43.7%. Let us leave to one side the concept of tax efficiency, as, above and beyond a technical appreciation, as it appears, this presupposes a political dimension and intervention.
The report presents a series of figures showing that Peruvian public investment gradually increased in the decade under review. This was because Latin America became part of a new economic order, the Commodities Consensus that emerged from a new international division of labour, characterised by neo-extractivism, capital-intensive activities and the increased concentration of capital in large transnational companies, which placed clear limits on the actions of nation states. Independently of the political orientation of successive governments, they all supported the extractivist paradigm.
The report also analyses how the Peruvian government deployed a policy of management and budgeting by results to increase its capacity for public investment. This increase, which in quantitative terms led to the tripling of the national budget, led to its greater intervention in a range of public services that are strategically important for women and girls.
The report analyses a series of gender gaps that persist in Peru, such as Time, Mother Tongue, Income, Teenage Pregnancy, Violence and Education. These gaps intersect with the geographic variable at both the urban-rural and socio-economic levels. The report also makes a distinction in terms of the scope of the different concepts contained in the thinking behind public policies and decision-making about spending. It identifies a trend that applies specifically to women and girls and that is related to an analysis of access to development; and another affirmative trend that analyses structural changes.
By comparing the issues and the relations between them, we can see:
Despite inefficient tax collection resulting from the high level of tax evasion/avoidance, (which makes the responsibility invisible by combining the two) and a gradual increase in revenue, the national budget remained relatively independent because of the income resulting from the commodities boom. This allowed tax revenues to maintain their growth throughout the decade.
The increase in the budget and allocations to public expenditure led to a major increase in resources, for example, for the national public health insurance system (SIS) and targeted payments to vulnerable sectors of the population registered with SIS, including women. This expenditure can be categorised as both general (which the study describes as neutral) and specific (designed to reduce the systemic inequality suffered by women and girls).
And it is this dimension of systemic inequality that is the main focus of the report. How can public policies (which are not neutral) change, remedy or perpetuate gender inequality?
Let us analyse two variables – care services and adolescent pregnancies.
Because of the sexual division of labour, care, that is, the work involved in the reproduction of material and spiritual life, is mainly done by women. It is generally allocated to them as part of their natural roles. If this work, which is a historical construct rather than anything natural, was redistributed between women, men and the state, it would represent a change in gender relations. However, as the study says, care services were allocated the least amount of money by the national budget and even eliminated in the decade in question.
With regard to adolescent pregnancies, the report notes that there was a systematic increase during the decade. It also applies the urban-rural and socio-economic variables to show the greater prevalence in rural and lower socio-economic sectors. This allows us to say that public policies and the strengthening and content of public services is not neutral. It is profoundly marked by political and ideological positions and perceptions that reflect disputes between social forces for hegemony and real rather than just formal control of the state.
We can therefore see how there was an intensification of the exploitation of nature through extractivism and an intensification of tax evasion/avoidance by the extractive companies in Peru during the decade under review, as well as an intensification of the exploitation of labour and women’s bodies.
End the patriarchy of the state in order to provide public services that will change gender relations
Public investment in quality public services is essential to end gender inequities, but that is not enough. Changes to gender relations are required to promote an understanding that the strategic needs of women and men are equal and to help especially women to have the material basis to exercise their human rights.
The public services relevant to gender are essential in deconstructing the historic sexual division of labour. They involve the redistribution of unpaid care work among men and women and also the state. Only if the states provides essential public services can women (and also men) be free from having to provide cares services themselves.
This involves a battle for universal access to essential services (health, education, water, energy, care, transport and social protection) that provide women with structural support for the construction of their economic, political and social autonomy.
It involves a battle to eliminate the patriarchal forms and content used to design, organise and provide these services.
* Verónica Montúfar is the Public Services International (PSI) Gender Equality Officer.