Working Paper 186

Increased attention has been paid to the gender dimensions of taxation in recent years, though there has been limited research on the subject – particularly in lower-income contexts. Understanding how tax policies might affect women in lower-income countries is important at the current time, when governments are looking for new ways to increase domestic revenue – particularly through expanding the tax base.

Given that women have historically represented only a small part of the formal workforce in these contexts, a shift towards indirect taxes and taxing the informal economy are likely to have a disproportionate effect on poorer households, and women in particular. Understanding whether, and in what specific ways, tax policy in lower-income countries affects the ability of women to participate in the workforce and carry out their caring responsibilities within households is critical for ensuring development with gender justice. This paper reviews the existing literature and related debates on gender and tax in lower income countries. It identifies knowledge gaps, and maps broader issues that are relevant for understanding the gendered impact of taxation.

The paper makes four broad observations. First, existing research focuses on formal direct taxes that are less relevant for women in lower-income contexts, given their high participation rates in the informal economy. Instead, presumptive taxes, user fees and informal taxes place a disproportionate burden on low income women. Second, there needs to be greater attention paid to the ways in which women in senior and junior positions in tax administration can affect how taxpayers interact with tax authorities. Third, any assessment of tax policy’s impact on gender needs to consider revenue and expenditure together to ensure that the positive effects of tax policies are not undermined by budgets, or vice versa. Finally, we show that there has been insufficient gender-disaggregated data collection and analysis, which is required to draw generalizable conclusions about the gendered impact of tax policy. We argue that tax specialists need to think about research questions that address these gaps, and simultaneously address methodological challenges by gender disaggregation in data collection, as well as impact evaluation of tax policy implementation and innovation.

Our overall conclusions are that tax policies can be made gender-neutral by paying careful attention to where they affect women differentially. There are opportunities for governments to explore policies that positively discriminate as a way to address structural gendered inequities. At the same time we recognise that, barring a few exceptions, tax policy and administration is often an unwieldy instrument to address gender equity directly. Instead other policies relating to labour markets, social protection and public services are better placed to be gender-transformative.


Anuradha Joshi

Anuradha Joshi is a social scientist with a PhD in Public Policy from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA with extensive experience in policy processes and institutional analysis. She is also a Professorial Fellow at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS). Her research interests lie in state-society relationships around the delivery of public services and accountability.

Jalia Kangave

Jalia Kangave holds a PhD in Law from the University of British Columbia, and has over decade of experience in the fields of taxation, law, and international development. She previously served as the Principal of the East African School of Taxation in Uganda, worked as a tax consultant for PricewaterhouseCoopers Uganda, and was a Research Fellow at the Institute of Development Studies. Dr Kangave is the lead consultant for the International Centre for Tax and Development’s research programme on gender and taxation.

Vanessa van den Boogaard

Vanessa van den Boogaard is a Research Fellow at the ICTD and a Senior Research Associate at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the University of Toronto. She completed her PhD thesis on informal revenue generation and statebuilding in Sierra Leone, and has ongoing research on the topic in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Somalia. Vanessa leads the ICTD’s new programme on civil society engagement in tax reform and co-leads the research programme on informal taxation.
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