• Opinion by Magdalena Sepulveda (Geneva, Switzerland)
  • Interpress service

She had given birth within hours of the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck Turkey and Syria on the night of February 6, 2023. Like her, more than 50,000 people died in the earthquake. As tragic as it is hopeful, this story has touched the international media.

It also reminds us that over 350,000 pregnant women who survived the earthquake now urgently need access to health care, according to the UN. And this is only one aspect of women’s vulnerability to natural disasters.

Floods, droughts, earthquakes and other extreme events are not gender neutral, especially in developing countries. Evidence shows that women and girls die in greater numbers and have different and uneven levels of resilience and resilience.

For example, of the 230,000 people killed in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, 70% were women. Because of gender barriers, they often have fewer survival skills: boys have to learn to swim or read first. This makes it difficult for them to access early warnings or identify safe shelters.

In addition, it is more difficult for women to escape from danger, as they are usually responsible for children, the elderly and the sick. Increased tensions and fear, as well as the loss of income due to disasters, are driving increased domestic violence against women and girls.

They are also the first victims of sexual violence and exploitation when whole populations are on the run – this was one of the first problems in Pakistan when more than 8 million people had to leave their homes due to the terrible floods of June-August 2022 .

Natural disasters affect everyone negatively economically, but women and girls are disproportionately affected. World Bank data shows that female farmers suffer much more than male farmers in rural areas.

Assigned household tasks, they are more dependent than men on access to natural resources and are therefore the first to suffer when these become scarce. In all regions, food insecurity is higher among women than men.

In 2020, it was estimated that almost 60% of people who are hungry are women and girls, and the gender gap has only widened since then. Their lack of access to bank accounts also means that women’s assets are less protected than men’s. And of course, recovery from any crisis is based on societal expectations related to gender roles. Consequently, women bear the brunt of the increased domestic burden after a disaster at the cost of missing out on other income-generating activities.

We know that women spend, on average, 3.2 times more time than men on unpaid care work, and the covid-19 pandemic – another man-made natural disaster – showed how unequally unpaid care and domestic work is shared, and how undervalued and under-recognised it is.

This is a major obstacle to women’s access to education, an obstacle to their entry and advancement in the paid labor market and to their political participation, with serious consequences in terms of social protection, earnings and pensions. Gender inequality exacerbates the effects of natural disasters, and the consequences of natural disasters exacerbate gender inequality. An unacceptable vicious circle. With the world already facing a growing number of climate-related tragedies, governments must take immediate and long-term action to invest in universal access to health care, water and sanitation, education, social protection and infrastructure for equality and full enjoyment. women’s human rights.

Even in times of crisis, when the coffers are almost empty, there are fair solutions to bring in revenue to fund the investments needed to strengthen women’s resilience: making those who profit from the crises ravaging the planet, including from these natural disasters, pay, as recommended by the Independent Commission on the Reform of International Corporate Taxation (ICRICT), of which I am a member along with Joseph Stiglitz, Jayati Ghosh and Thomas Piketty, among others. Instead of implementing austerity programs that devastate the most disadvantaged, states can increase their fiscal space by taxing corporations and the super-rich more.

It starts by taxing the super profits of multinational corporations, and several countries in Europe and Latin America have already begun to do so. This is especially true for the pharmaceutical giants who have made a fortune selling vaccines against Covid-19, which they were able to develop due to public subsidies. This is also the case for multinational companies in the energy or food sectors.

Oxfam estimates that their profits increased by more than two and a half times (256%) in 2022 compared to the 2018-2021 average. For the same reason, there is a rush to tax the richest, who get away with paying hardly any taxes these days.

It cannot be accepted that, as Oxfam reminds us, a man like Elon Musk, one of the richest men in history, is taxed at 3.3%, while Aber Christine, a market trader in Uganda selling rice, is taxed at 40%.

Progressive taxation – making the richest people and multinational corporations pay their fair share – is one of the most powerful tools for reducing inequality of all kinds. As the world celebrates International Women’s Day, let’s remember that it is impossible to build more resilient societies without fighting for gender equality.

To continue to ignore it is a political choice and an even more dangerous threat to development than natural disasters themselves.

Magdalena Sepúlveda is the Executive Director of the Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and a member of the Independent Commission on the Reform of International Corporate Taxation (ICRICT). From 2008-2014 she was the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights @Magda_Sepul

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© Inter Press Service (2023) — All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service