Inequality

  • The widening gap between the world’s richest and poorest people is tearing societies apart. Too many still toil in extreme poverty. In contrast, wealth is increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few, who can use it to capture disproportionate power to shape the future. The widening gap between the richest and poorest is damaging economies and pushing more people into poverty. There are practical ways to close the gap.

Bangladesh: Transformative tailoring for Rohingya women

Elderly lady smiles
Credit: Caroline Leal/Oxfam

Gender dynamics in the largest refugee settlement in the world

“You have come to this country as a guest,” Shompa, 60 years old, says to Caroline Leal from Oxfam as she sits in Shompa’s shelter in Camp 22 in the Unchiprang camp in the Cox’s Bazar district of Bangladesh. “Well, so have I. And, just like you, I want to return home.”

It’s been two years since over 700,000 Rohingya, a stateless Muslim minority in Myanmar, fled their home to Bangladesh. Their exodus to seek safety began on August 25, 2017 after violence broke out in Myanmar’s Rakhine State.

Bangladesh is now the host of the largest refugee settlement in the world. More than half the Rohingya refugees are women, and 60 percent of the female population are under 18 years of age.

Although Shompa is safe from the violence she was subjected to in Myanmar, she and thousands of Rohingya women still continue to face huge challenges in the refugee settlements. Gender dynamics, trauma endured in Myanmar and pre-existing cultural and social norms are proving to be major factors for women to overcome.

“When fleeing our home, it was too dangerous to grab any belongings. We had no choice but to escape to Bangladesh with only the clothes on our back,” Shompa said.

This is particularly problematic for Rohingya women in the camp as the community’s traditional practice of purdah, which is the screening of women from men or strangers, is still observed. The lack of proper clothing has greatly affected the ability of Rohingya refugee women to move freely around the camps.

Back in Rakhine, women did not need a burqa to access latrines and water points, as these were close to their homes and they lived with their relatives. But the reality in Camp 22 is different.

“When I needed to go outdoors, I had to see if there were any men around,” Shompa said. “Because of this [lack of proper clothing], I often couldn’t go outside.”

Working directly with Rohingya women and members of the host community in the district of Cox’s Bazar, Oxfam decided to help address this challenge. Through Oxfam’s protection and sustainable livelihoods program, a project was designed which involves the distribution of nine different fabrics along with tailoring vouchers. These vouchers can be used at local shops in the host community, and mean that Rohingya women are able to have garments that are culturally appropriate.

A common thread

Refugee man tailors clothes
Credit: Caroline Leal/Oxfam

A short drive away from Camp 22, the small town of Chakmaara is filled with shops and tuk-tuks. On the second floor of the plaza, Noor Mohammed, a local tailor, fills out orders inside his brightly painted shop. Fabric, buttons and thread fill every corner.

“On my own, I couldn’t complete all of the orders! I had six tailors working but had to hire five more,” Mohammed said.

Mohammed is one of the local vendors participating in Oxfam’s tailoring voucher program.

The impact of the Rohingya refugee camps on a host community that is already one of the poorest in Bangladesh is undeniable.

“Since the construction of the camps, the cost of daily life and goods has risen significantly,” says Mohammed. “One kilogram of potatoes usually cost six Taka (approximately $0.10 CAD). Today, it’s around 22 Taka.”

Cost increases are also affecting businesses. Before the influx, business owners like Mohammed averaged a monthly profit of 5000 Taka (approximately $77 CAD). That average has been cut by more than half, hovering around 2000 Taka.

Since the launch of the tailoring voucher program, Mohammed’s business has prospered. In the past three months alone, he and his team have made 1,400 garments.

“Thanks to this program, my business has greatly flourished,” he says.

Hand shows clothing
Credit: Caroline Leal/Oxfam

A humanitarian response working for women

A couple of shelters down from Shompa’s, Ayesha, 18, lives after fleeing the violence of Myanmar with her husband, their young son, and her parents. Her husband lives 50 kilometres away in the Balukhali camp, working at the mosque.

Life is difficult for a single woman in the camp. Ayesha collects firewood and heavy buckets of water from a nearby water point twice daily. She has participated in Oxfam’s tailoring voucher program

“For me, it’s a matter of safety,” she says. “I feel heard.”

Ayesha isn’t alone in her sentiment. According to a recent survey done on the Rohingya response by Oxfam, 95 percent of women feel safer and more comfortable going outside their home thanks to the tailoring voucher program.

Designing programs for women, with women, is putting power back in their hands in times of crisis. Listening to what Shompa and Ayesha want is the way to ensure humanitarian responses work for women.

Oxfam bag with tailored clothes
Credit: Caroline Leal/Oxfam

Ring the alarm

Oxfam’s tailoring program is helping women like Shompa and Ayesha, but it won’t fix the problems that forced them to flee to Bangladesh in the first place.

The ongoing violence and persecution against Rohingya people in their home country, Myanmar, must be stopped. Two years after the crisis made international headlines, Rohingya people in Myanmar still don’t have basic rights - including freedom of movement, access to citizenship, healthcare and education.   Ultimately the Rohingya people need an end to their persecution. They need durable solutions. They need a future, now.

This is why, alongside the humanitarian assistance Oxfam is providing on the ground, Oxfam is calling on Myanmar authorities to end the violence and ensure that Rohingya people in Myanmar can enjoy their rights.

Because, ultimately, what is it that Shompa wants?

“Justice,” she declares. “All I want is to go back home with recognition and justice.”

West Africa: Extreme inequality in numbers

Disheveled boy carries plates
Northern Ghana has poverty levels two to three times higher than the national average. The region is covered by dry savannah land and lacks key infrastructure such as roads and markets. Credit: Adam Patterson/Oxfam

West Africa has had an impressive economic growth in the past two decades. In 2018, the region was home to six of the top 10 fastest growing economies in Africa: Cote d’Ivoire, Senegal, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Benin and Niger.

However, for the majority of countries, the benefits of this unprecedented economic growth went to a tiny few. Today, inequality has reached extreme levels in the region. The rich have grown richer while the poor have become even poorer. The region has also the least public health care coverage and the least populations with access to water and decent education.

Let’s look at the numbers

1% Compared to other regions on the continent, West Africa has the greatest number of countries with more than 30 percent of the population living on less than $1.90 (€1.72/£1.48) a day. The top one percent West Africans own more than everyone else combined in the region.

$1.25 Five of Nigeria’s richest men have a combined wealth of US$29.9 billion (€27.1 billion/£23.2 billion) – more than the country’s entire national budget for 2017. However, about 60 percent of its citizens live on less than US$1.25 (€1.13/£0.97) a day, the threshold for absolute poverty.

1 M In Ghana, West Africa’s second biggest economy, one of the richest men earns more in a month than one of the poorest women could earn in 1,000 years. In the decade ending in 2016, the country added 1,000 US dollar millionaires while nearly one million more people were added to the poverty pool.

Girl smiles in mothers arms
West Africa has high rates of child marriage. Niger, Mali and Nigeria are home to the highest number of children married before 18 years in Africa. Credit: Laeïla Adjovi/Oxfam

$9.6 BN West Africa countries lose an estimated $9.6 billion (€8.7 billion/£7.5 billion) each year through corporate tax incentives offered to multinational companies. This would be enough to build about 100 modern and well-equipped hospitals each year in the region.

70% Inequality is also rife in the provision of public services such as education. Women from rich families in Mali are 15 times more likely to have received a secondary education than women from poor families. An estimated 70 percent of the poorest girls in Niger have never attended primary school.

3.5% In Nigeria, women constitute between 60 percent and 79 percent of the rural labour force but they are 10 times less likely to own their own land than men. They represent only 3.5 percent of the population owning farmland in the country. This level of inequality has negative impacts on women, including making them more vulnerable to gender-based violence.

How committed are West African governments to reducing inequality?

While a small but growing group becomes fantastically rich, a clear majority of West Africa’s citizens are denied the most essential elements of a dignified life like access to quality education, healthcare and decent jobs. Yet the West African governments are much less committed to reducing inequality than all other regions of the African continent.

The Oxfam’s Commitment to Reducing Inequality Index (CRII) regional report, which ranks countries according to their commitment to tackle inequality, reveals that the West African’s governments are exacerbating inequality by underfunding public services, such as healthcare and education, while under-taxing corporations and the wealthy.

Without radically increasing their commitment to reduce inequality, this crisis is likely to worsen. It’s time for West African governments to act decisively. Unless they significantly close the gap between the richest and the rest, ending extreme poverty will remain a dream.

5 steps governments can take to prevent another Mauritius Leaks scandal

A 5-point plan to stop big corporations cheating poor countries out of billions of dollars in tax revenue, was published by Oxfam today in the wake of the Mauritius Leaks.

When multinational corporations and the super-rich use tax havens to dodge paying their fair share, it is ordinary people, and especially the poorest, who pay the price. The Mauritius Leaks show that tax havens continue not only to exist but to prosper, despite government promises to rein in tax dodging. Oxfam’s plan lists five steps governments can take to tackle tax avoidance and end the era of tax havens.

Jim Clarken, Oxfam Ireland’s Chief Executive, said: “Politicians could put a stop to tax scandals if they wanted to. Oxfam has listed five concrete solutions that would prevent another Mauritius Leaks scandal and ensure multinational corporations pay their fair share of tax wherever they do business. Developing countries can revise or void their tax treaties and introduce withholding taxes to better protect their tax revenue, and all governments – rich and poor – agree to set a global minimum effective tax rate on corporate profits.

“There is no time to waste. Developing countries lose an estimated $100 billion a year in tax revenue as a result of tax dodging by multinational corporations, and even more as a result of damaging tax competition between countries. This money is desperately needed to end hunger, tackle the climate crisis, and ensure all children have the chance of an education.”

Oxfam’s 5-point plan to build a fairer global tax system calls on governments to:

(1) Agree new global tax rules in the negotiations led by the OECD under the mandate of the G20 to ensure fair taxation of big corporations. This should include the introduction of a global minimum effective tax rate set at an ambitious level and applied at a country-by-country basis without exception. This would put a stop to the damaging tax competition between countries and remove the incentive for profit shifting – effectively putting tax havens out of business.

(2) Developing countries should not give away their taxing rights. Many treaties result in multinational companies not paying certain types of tax at all in any country. Rich countries have a responsibility in ensuring fair taxation with their investments and the projects they finance. Governments of developing countries can protect their tax base from erosion by revising or voiding their tax treaties, introducing withholding taxes and implementing strong tax anti-abuse rules.

(3) End corporate tax secrecy by ensuring all multinational companies publish financial reports for every country where they operate. The current OECD initiative on country-by-country reporting falls well short of the mark as it does not cover all multinational corporations and it does not require companies to make their financial reports publicly available. This means poor countries are unable to access the information to identify tax cheats. Stronger European proposals on public country-by-country reporting were due to be agreed this year but are being blocked by EU member states such as Ireland, Germany, and Luxembourg.

(4) Agree a global blacklist of tax havens based on comprehensive objective criteria and take strong countermeasures including sanctions to limit their use. Governments have yet to agree an objective global list of tax havens. A farcical OECD-G20 blacklist published in July 2017 features only Trinidad and Tobago. The more comprehensive European Union list omits European tax havens such as Ireland and the Netherlands.

(5) Strengthen global tax governance by creating a global tax body where all countries can work together on an equal footing to ensure the tax system works for everyone. The new round of global tax negotiations (BEPS 2.0) is a historic opportunity to put a stop to damaging tax competition and corporate tax avoidance, and to build a fairer tax system that works for the benefit of all people and not just a fortunate few. Even if the new round of global tax negotiations (BEPS 2.0) delivers positive results, a more inclusive tax body is required to oversee the global governance of international tax matters and strengthen international tax cooperation

ENDS

Oxfam experts are available for interview. Please contact:

Phillip Graham: phillip.graham@oxfam.org / +44 (0) 7841 102535

Alice Dawson-Lyons: alice.dawsonlyons@oxfam.org / +353 (0) 83 198 1869

NOTES TO EDITORS:

Download Oxfam's 5-point plan here.

G20 Finance Ministers discusstax reforms

 
G20 Finance Ministers are expected to give the green light to a new round of negotiations on international tax reforms at a meeting in Fukuoka, Japan on 8 - 9 June, 2019, in line with OECD recommendations issued in May. 
 
For the first time countries will debate proposals for fundamental reforms such as where a companies’ profits are taxed and whether to set a global minimum effective corporate tax rate.
 
Jim Clarken, Oxfam Ireland Chief Executive, said:
 
“This new round of global tax negotiations offers a unique chance to put a stop to corporate tax dodging and damaging tax competition. If they get it right this could mark the beginning of a new fairer tax era where poor countries are able to claim their fair share of corporate tax revenues – and release the funds they need to tackle poverty and inequality. Governments must not waste this opportunity.
 
“The UN has said that developing countries lose around $100 billion each year as a result of global corporate tax avoidance. This shortfall leaves developing countries without the revenue to provide the vital healthcare, education and infrastructure needed to tackle poverty and inequality.  Women and girls are most effected by the lack of these services, as recently highlighted by a European Parliament report on taxation policies and gender equality.
 
“If we look at Ireland, our corporate tax rate has attracted international investment that generates much-needed jobs and prosperity. However, the parallel system of tax loopholes needs to be reformed because of the knock-on effect that it has on some of the poorest communities in the world.
 
“A global consensus has seen efforts to reform the global tax system take place at the OECD, where Ireland also participates. G20 Finance Ministers need to take the opportunity this weekend to get behind reforms that will usher in a new corporate tax era.”
 
ENDS 
 
CONTACT: Nyle Lennon, nyle.lennon@oxfam.org,   083 197 5107.
 
Notes to editors
 
An Oxfam briefing note - 'Tax Revolution?' -  which provides more details on the negotiations and what is at stake is available on request.

Lorraine Keane and a host of fashion and entertainment stars launch fundraiser extravaganza FASHION RELIEF – now nationwide!

 

TV presenter rolls out events in Cork, Dublin and Galway in aid of Oxfam Ireland

TV presenter Lorraine Keane brought together Ireland’s favourite fashionable stars today to launch FASHION RELIEF 2019 as the fundraiser extravaganza goes nationwide in aid of Oxfam Ireland.

Keane teamed up with Miriam O’Callaghan, Maia Dunphy, Noel Cunningam, Mary Kennedy, James Patrice, Clémentine MacNeice, Joe Conlan, Triona McCarthy, Sarah McGovern, Laura Woods, Mo Kelly, Cathy O’Connor, Caroline Morahan, Teo Sutra and Joanne Northey to call on the public to join them at three FASHION RELIEF events across the country in 2019.

Following the success of the first fundraiser in Dublin in May 2018, events will now be held in Cork’s City Hall on Sunday 17 February, Dublin’s RDS on Sunday 10 March and Galway’s Galmont Hotel on Sunday 31 March.

Each event will offer people the unique opportunity to bag a bargain from the wardrobe of their style icon or beloved brand, boutique or designer, all while raising vital funds for Oxfam’s work in some of the world’s poorest countries.

With donations from stars like Saoirse Ronan, Vogue Williams, Dáithí Ó Sé, Mary Kennedy, Miriam O’Callaghan, Rob Kearney, Anna Geary, James Patrice and more – as well as event host Lorraine Keane – FASHION RELIEF is not-to-be-missed.

Attendees of each event will also enjoy two free fashion shows and get fashion advice and top tips from leading Irish stylists and social influencers on the day.

Lorraine Keane is calling on the Irish public to join her in Cork, Dublin and Galway: “We were blown away by the success of our first ever FASHION RELIEF in May 2018, including the incredible generosity we experienced from the Irish public, our corporate and media partners and designers, boutiques and brands across the country.

“This year, we’re determined to make it bigger and better – starting by taking the show on the road! We’re so excited to bring FASHION RELIEF back to Dublin’s RDS but also to fashion-savvy shoppers in Cork and Galway.

“Over the last few weeks, stock has been pouring in from a host of amazing designers, retailers and of course, celebrities and influencers. Now I’m calling on people across Dublin, Cork, Galway and beyond to join us on the day and bag yourself a bargain. By buying your ticket in advance, you’ll skip the queues and ensure you don’t miss any of the action, including two fabulous free fashion shows.

“If you want to do more, you could even donate your own pre-loved clothes and accessories for sale on the day, get your workplace on board to do a bigger donation drive, or volunteer to staff your own stall at the events – why not get some friends together and make a day of it?”

All profits will support Oxfam’s work in some of the world’s poorest countries, helping people to lift themselves out of poverty and thrive as well as saving lives when disaster strikes.

Keane continued: “In November 2018, I had the privilege of travelling to Ethiopia to see Oxfam’s work there and how the money raised through FASHION RELIEF could help people facing hunger and poverty. It was the most difficult part of this journey so far but also the most rewarding. I met a little five-year-old girl called Samia who, in the midst of the devastation surrounding her – hunger, disease, violence – beamed the most beautiful smile and reminded me of my own daughters. I met people who are lifting themselves out of poverty through innovative farming techniques and saw families forced to flee because of hunger, drought and conflict receive life-saving aid like clean, safe water.

“The are many reasons to join me at FASHION RELIEF but the most important is that we’ll be raising vital funds for Oxfam’s work across the world – funds that will help make sure children like Samia have the future they deserve. Get your ticket today and together, we’ll beat hunger and poverty for good.”

FASHION RELIEF 2019 will take place in:

  • City Hall, Cork on Sunday 17 February from 11am – 5pm
  • RDS, Dublin on Sunday 10 March from 11am – 5pm and
  • Galmont Hotel, Galway on Sunday 31 March from 11am – 5pm

Tickets for each event are just €10 and available at www.fashionrelief.ie. For more information on tickets, organising a donation drive or volunteering on the day, email IRL-fashionrelief@oxfam.org or call 01 672 7662.

ENDS

CONTACT: Interviews, images – including of Lorraine Keane’s trip to Ethiopia – and more information available on request contact Alice Dawson-Lyons on  alice.dawsonlyons@oxfam.org / +353 (0) 83 198 1869

 

 

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