Women and Taxation

Women and Taxation

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Anuradha Shankar

World over, this is a topic that has been ignored. Taxation has always shown gender bias. Back home, I can say that it is both cultural as well as financial. By that I mean that those who make the policies are taken up with the old and worn idea of females. Take for example, a popular news paper groups satirical animation on the budget. The women on the streets who dance asking for a good budget are depicted as tied to the home. So they plead for kitchen reforms. The vegetables, the daal, roti and one particularly tired looking housewife worries about college. This is so typical of mainstream media which has consistently ignored the real issues that may surround women. The Indian media has also shot down the idea of the professional women who maybe struggling with taxes, petrol costs and much more. After all, food is a concern for all of us ,so why project women as in charge?

In the 1970s , Margaret Thatcher reinforced the idea of the housewife financier. Thais idea is as dated as Thatcherism. For it undermines the real contribution of women in economic terms. This, of course is a limited idea. For, economics   takes into account a host of   realms while finance is always a smaller realm. In socio- economic terms it really narrows down to how much you bring home and the standard of living that you can provide for your family. Truly, the dal roti scene ,yet , many times the burden falls solely on the woman. This notion of the single earning member   being a woman is rarely accepted by our society and therefore, the policy makers. It’s like the elephant in the room. Nobody talks about it. However, we are aware that its there.

I feel that it women have to bear the onus and so, they need to talk about it. After all, India has some powerful women leaders .This has somehow not helped our cause, though. In spite of having three women chief ministers and union ministers the talk about women’s issues are being discouraged. Before we even begin to think of Indian women has having a right to have tax exemptions it is important to recognise her contribution. I would like to avoid   figures here. Let’s just take a look around. In social terms what exactly do we see? A large number of women workers?   Exactly. Whether you are wandering about in the city   or in a rural area, you will see women working in all fields. At the very bottom of the pile are the most exploited ones. You can easily ask, should we talk about them at all? Do they really qualify in an article related to taxation?

Personally, I feel they have a place. This is because its not just income tax that we are talking about. There are so many services, products that are being taxed that everybody feels the pinch. The labouring masses feel it the most because of loss of employment the more their employers are taxed the employee looses in terms of perks, sometimes even jobs. Domestic labour is a very good example. These women have no standards. Many     of us prefer to employ women for household work. These women have to depend on individual employers. The pay is very less and many of them are sole earning members of their family. They are supposed to be the beneficiaries of the taxes that the government collects from those who earn. However, there is no effort to provide them with social security, healthcare, adult education. On the other hand their children struggle to get the rudiments of education.

The way  taxes are being levied, it does not take into consideration the plight of single mothers. Single, working mothers. Some of them have taxable income and others who don’t have indirect taxes to deal with. Do single working mothers exist in India? They sure do. They could be widows, divorcees and worse, women who may have disabled husbands or, plainly thise who have been abandoned. Do we think of them as economic entities? The sad reality is that they exist. They are working very hard to bring up their children while also looking after old people or disabled husbands. While thinking of tax exemptions shouldn’t we consider their plight?

This article firmly categorises working women into two entities: a. those whose income is taxed and those whose income may not be taxed but consumer goods are. The latter are also supposed to get welfare benefits because of the former, however, this has remained a dream. This article is also aimed at recognising all the work that women do including domestic duties as a housewife and the burden of motherhood. Frankly, motherhood is taken absolutely for granted. How is motherhood to be considered an economic activity? Well, if human capital is part of the wealth of the nation, then motherhood, a biological act that produces this resource is certainly an obvious economic activity. Please do also consider that a woman puts herself at grave risk during motherhood. Being a good mother entails emotional strain.

While our mothers are used to a social scenario where a moral burden is forced on her, some countries have recognised the economic importance of motherhood. Thus, in Norway there is a lot of state support for the mother. A mother may have to give up her job or business. So, welfare means that there should be enough   support for the mother like day care centres, some amount of financial stability, tax exemptions and loans to restart her life, if she so desires. After   all, the contribution to GDP is that which   helps the nation forge ahead. In the vision of skilled India, are we making a sincere effort to include women?

How does one become more skilled? Through adult education, continuous professional development, access   to resources to enrich ourselves. One is tempted to ask as to where such resources are? The vision is perfect but it is stagnating at the stage where it is simply a slogan. It just hangs in the air, a part of a marketing exercise. Nothing more .However I would like to point out that a lot could have been achieved. Mobile libraries, adult education centres and offering financial education could have contributed to the skill India campaign. That is where  the question of taxation sneaks in. A simple reminder where should the money collected go to?

In simple terms, resource allocation should show a direct beneficiary. So that if the single working mothers or even single women are paying taxes, in some areas they should also be the beneficiaries. So that, their lives should be enriched. Women in India have been quit about their plight for a long time. It is high time that they asked for their rights. Their contribution in socio- economic terms is not to be overlooked. Financial education is an absolute must if women are to recognise their contribution to society. I also put forward the idea that motherhood is an economic activity and the woman should have economic compensation for it.

While Indian women are   in a different predicament since their lives are really very different from that of western women we have to take notice that gender bias is shown even in consumer goods. Value added tax is levied on a lot of cosmetic and luxury products used by women and children. In India, men and women seem to lead entirely different lives. So, it is futile to talk about women’s issues in opposition to men. Simply put, we can’t really have a discussion comparing men and women. I feel women have their peculiar problems which need to be solved without comparing the lives of men. Looking at it this way we have to think of tax exemptions   for some women. A special category needs to be built. Such issues are worthy of discussion.

After all, the whole question of development is tied up with the improvement in the quality of life of the people. A highly skilled workforce comprising both men and women has contributed to the economic well being in most western nation. It would certainly work for us. Such an approach would also lead to better allocation of resources, leading to a society where the population is also under control. Voluntarily, as motherhood is also given due economic importance. All this is already tried and tested so there is no reason why it should be ignored in the Indian context. Women have to realise themselves, that compensation in terms of their betterment in every possible way is their due. This is the blueprint of the demand of women in their youth and middle age. As far as   old age is concerned our country too needs to think about the rights of older people, including the rights of older women. As moral codes fall away, the joint family system is dismantled the relevance of financial independence seems to loom larger, as a very grave concern.

Thinkspoken By Anuradha B Shanker