Debbie Budlender, Daniela Casale and Imraan Valodia
South Africa is a particularly interesting case study for understanding the gendered impacts of taxation. One of the major victories of the democratic transition in South Africa was the commitment to gender equality, outlined in the new Constitution adopted after the political transition in 1994. This commitment has been translated into a broad range of gender-related institutions, including the Commission on Gender Equality, as well as the numerous gender units that have been established within government departments. At a more global level, the South African government has ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and agreed to a number of international instruments, including the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, aimed at improving the status and condition of women.
Women in South Africa are also much better represented at the highest levels of politics and the economy than they are in many other countries. Nevertheless, the majority of women continue to be economically marginalized (see Casale and Posel 2005; Hassim 2006). While there are some notable exceptions, for the most part, the political commitment to gender equality has not been matched at the level of policy implementation, and progress has been slow and concentrated among women at the top of the income distribution.
One of the many ways in which these gender disparities are perpetuated, despite government commitments, is through the differential impact of the national budget on men and women, including not only expenditures, but also taxation. The first publication of the South African Women's Budget Initiative (1996) therefore included not only several chapters on public expenditure from a gender perspective, but also the first study of taxation from a gender perspective (Hartzenburg 1996). Based on research done in 1995, one year after the first democratic elections in the country, the chapter reviewed, among other things, some of the changes in personal income taxes, pensions and retirement funds, unemployment insurance and medical aid contributions, company taxes and value-added tax (VAT) in South Africa after 1994. The overall conclusion of the research was that while the new government had quickly addressed the explicit bias in the tax system which existed prior to 1994, government needed to collect sex-disaggregated data on taxes and consider the more subtle gender implications of its taxation policies.