A conceptual framework
Governments everywhere grapple with the problem of generating enough resources to reduce poverty and fund essential public services. Fiscal policy, including taxation, is at the heart of the debate on which services government should provide and who should pay for them, including the share paid by men and women as consumers, workers, and employers. The global financial crisis of 2008–09 has thrown millions of people into poverty worldwide, highlighting the need for stronger, more equitable and efficient tax systems that can ensure a stable flow of public services, even during periods of downturn.
Over the decades, many countries have embarked on extensive reforms of their tax systems, with some achieving lasting improvements and others managing only short-term or transitional improvements that are gradually undone. Since the 1990s, several trends have been seen worldwide. These include reforms to personal income tax systems to broaden their bases and reduce the highest marginal tax rates, reduction of the highest corporate income tax rates, increasing reliance on broadbased value-added taxes (VATs), and reduced reliance on trade taxes through a flattening of the tax structure and removal of discrimination against imported goods in both indirect and trade taxes (Bahl and Bird 2008). Countries have sought to make up revenue losses from declining trade taxes, in particular, through a shift to indirect taxes, especially the VAT. More than 125 countries now have some form of a VAT, and it is the mainstay of revenue systems in much of the world (Bird 2005).
One of the cornerstones of tax policy, and central to tax reform efforts, is the issue of equity, along with issues of efficiency and ease of administration. A key challenge facing developing countries is to be able to generate sufficient public resources in a way that does not place an undue burden on the poor and marginalized. Since women are particularly vulnerable to poverty, systematic and robust assessments of the manner in which developing countries are attempting to increase their revenue pool and the impact of this on poor women are urgently needed.
To date, however, neither the tax literature nor public debates have adequately addressed how gender-based differences in behaviour affect tax equity considerations and outcomes. For example, an assessment of the effect of consumption