Women's Rights and Illicit Financial Flows

FEMNET Head of Communications Nebila Abdulmelik caught up with Samantha Spooner of the Mail & Guardian to share her thoughts on Illicit Financial Flows and the linkages with women’s rights work:

1. How do gender issues fit into illicit financial flows?

​Illicit financial flows further social, gender, spatial inequities and inequalities. Many of the factors that exacerbate IFFs, such as overeliance on natural resource extraction​ and the work of many multi-national corporations further environmental degradation and often workers in such industries operate in low-paying, unsafe and insecure working conditions with rampant human rights violations – which disproportionately affect women. It is estimated that 40-50% of workers in the mining industry (particularly in small-scale and artisinal) are women who are not receiving living wages, don’t have a right to unionise, don’t have access to benefits or social protection mechanisms.

If conservative estimates say that Africa loses $50 billion annually through IFFs, that lost revenue impacts service delivery on a range of socio-economic needs of the population and the realization of their rights – particularly those most marginalized – women and girls are whom often in that category. States are often at a deficit, using regressive taxation – including VAT on essential products, cut spending on social services which again disproportionately affect those most in need and increase the burden of care on women and girls.

A key anecdote that brings these examples to life is a study/report carried out by Action Aid on SAB Miller (the brewery giant). This particular case was of its plants in Ghana – apparently, Marta who owns a small shop outside of the SAB Miller plant pays more in taxes than the giant itself. This is a clear indication of the injustices of the current system.

We see also that the mama mbogas (small scale business women who sell fruits and vegetables on the streets) pay taxes while multi-national corporations who make billions in profits get tax breaks!

2. What does FEMNET do in regards to this and how is it trying to address those specific challenges?
FEMNET is keen to mobilise African women to take part in the conversations around IFFs and Financing for Development more broadly. Financing is an issue that affects all of us – and we must begin to understand and deepen our engagement of macro-economic policies and their socio-political impact on our lives and our work. Earlier last month, FEMNET along with AWDF (African Women’s Development Fund) and the Post-2015 Women’s Coalition​ ​hosted a Feminist Strategy meeting so that more feminist and women’s rights organisations and practitioners could have a deeper understanding and begin engaging. FEMNET is also one of the Interim Working Group member for the IFF Campaign that is meant to raise awareness and action amongst the general public as well as ensure decision-makers take this issue seriously and begin to take concrete measures to curb IFFs.  ​
3. Any statistics you can share on IFF and the direct impact on women in Africa? 
Unfortunately we don’t have those statistics – which is perhaps more reason why we need more feminist and women’s rights actors to engage so that we can have stats such as these on our fingertips and in the public domain.​

4. Depending on the outcome of the meeting in Addis, where do you see African women 10 years down the line – gains or lack of gains?

​I consider myself a cautious optimist. So I will say that I see more women who are ​in decision-making spaces, able to shape policies and practices, able to determine budget allocations, trade agreements, transform tax and finance regimes and also able to shape the decisions at their local and household levels as well.
I envision that African women’s rights organisations will be self-sustaining and financially feasible and will be driving the agenda rather than be driven by it. ​
Nebila Abdulmelik is a pan-Africanist and a feminist passionate about social justice. She currently serves as the Head of Communications for FEMNET. Connect with her @aliben86, http://aliben86.wordpress.com and/or communication@femnet.or.ke

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