Gender and Taxes in Africa

By now, most of us are painfully aware about how the capitalist centered world we live in marginalizes certain groups and puts obstacles in their pursuit of access to opportunities. In this article, we hone in on the economical impact of imperialist structures on women in Africa, particularly heavy and unfair tax systems and their inherent gender biases. An intersectionality scholar’s wet dream.

In Africa, unfair tax systems hit the hardest when combined with what is often referred to as the ‘African standard’.1 It is no secret that there is a double standard when it comes to goods that are distributed to developed nations versus what is marketed towards African states. 

When a call on social media for women to share their experiences using the Always brand of sanitary pads went trending, all kinds of reactions from discomfort, bad odours, allergic reactions, rashes and even burns were found to be common. When the product was compared to its counterparts in the U.K and the U.S it was found that not only were their products of better quality but in some cases were also cheaper.2 Suffice to say Twitter had a field day with this one.

The taxation of menstrual products has intensified menstruation stigma and has been especially punishing to girls from low-income homes. UNESCO estimates that 1 in 10 girls in sub-Saharan Africa skip school during their period and that 20% drop out entirely due to period poverty.3 As it stands, only South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria have repealed added tax on sanitary pads and tampons but access to high quality goods still remains an issue.45In 2018 Tanzania repealed the tax but reintroduced it again the following year.6

Situations such as these show the complex nature of tax systems. They have a domino effect that touches other aspects of life such as education, security and labor markets. Across Sub-Saharan Africa, the informal sector is where over 50% of women find their employment.7 For example, in Kenya, the informal sector accounts for 30% of GDP and  80% of all employment (66% of whom are women).8 State institutions do not recognize informal sectors work as legitimate, women are left without any protection of labor laws, work longer hours for lower wages and no social benefits such as pension and health insurance. As long as some get free drinks at the bar though, I guess it balances out… Economic protections be damned.

Tax policies have many goals but can often be boiled down to the main role of collecting revenue for social services and state capacities as well as changing behavior of citizens to achieve public goals.9 Gender equality issues underpin both these goals as social spending and consumption are inherently gendered. In pursuit of growth at the expense of gender and social justice, countries are increasing revenues from indirect taxes such as VAT while simultaneously providing tax incentives to large corporations and multinationals. Similarly, income taxes assessed on joint taxation of adult couples and insufficient tax relief for living costs, show that gender biases exist in places like, Kenya, Benin, Niger and Guinea to name a few.10

Ghana is one of Africa’s top states in leading the charge towards better tax policies for women, especially in joint income taxes and personal income tax reliefs. A newer approach has been to engender the tax administration field and increase more representation for marginalized groups.11 In Nigeria, market traders prefer to pay taxes to female tax collectors, who are perceived to be more understanding and calmer than male tax collectors, while not involved in asking for sexual favors from taxpayers.12

The patriarchal nature of tax policies is not lost on most of us, however the degree to which these policies truly affect lives may not be so clear. In the pursuit for a more equitable world, we must endeavor to continuously push for vulnerable and marginalised groups so that progressive tax systems are accessible to all. 

  1. Jehron Muhammad, “‘Pink Tax’ Costly for African Females Needing Personal Care Products,” www.finalcall.com, July 9, 2019, https://www.finalcall.com/artman/publish/World_News_3/Pink-Tax-costly-for-African-females.shtml.
  2. Kylie Kiunguyu, “‘Pink Tax’: The Reality of Being an African Female Consumer,” This is africa, April 4, 2019, https://thisisafrica.me/african-identities/pink-tax-the-reality-of-being-an-african-female-consumer/#:~:text=This%20%E2%80%9Cpink%20tax%E2%80%9D%20is%20imposed.
  3. (Muhammad 2019)
  4. (Muhammad 2019)
  5. Isaac Sagala, “Kenya Has Scrapped the Tax on Menstrual Products, but They Are Still Too Expensive for Rural Women,” D+C, July 15, 2019, https://www.dandc.eu/en/article/kenya-has-scrapped-tax-menstrual-products-they-are-still-too-expensive-rural-women#:~:text=Kenya%20has%20improved%20access%20to.
  6. “Anger over Re-Introduction of Tampon Tax in Tanzania,” Medical XPress, June 24, 2019, https://medicalxpress.com/news/2019-06-anger-re-introduction-tampon-tax-tanzania.html#:~:text=Taxes%20on%20female%20sanitary%20products,Tax%20on%20pads%20and%20tampons.&text=%22When%20we%20scrapped%20this%20tax%20the%20whole%20world%20applauded.
  7. U. N. Women, “Women in the Changing World of Work – Facts You Should Know,” interactive.unwomen.org, 2017, https://interactive.unwomen.org/multimedia/infographic/changingworldofwork/en/index.html.
  8. “Tax and Gender from the Perspective of Informal Women Traders in Kenya Examples of Tax and Gender Work,” 2019, https://oxfamilibrary.openrepository.com/bitstream/handle/10546/620629/cs-tax-gender-equality-6-kenya-women-traders-070319-en.pdf.
  9. Anuradha Joshi, Jalia Kangave, and Vanessa Van Den Boogaard, “Gender and Tax Policies in the Global South Question” (Department for International Development (DFID), May 26, 2020). https://opendocs.ids.ac.uk/opendocs/bitstream/handle/20.500.12413/15450/817_Gender_and_Tax.pdf.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Ibid.
  12. Ibid.