The Women’s Budget Initiative (WBI) began in South Africa in 1995, soon after the country’s first democratic elections. It engaged in research, training and advocacy focused on the gender impact of government budgets. In its first year, the WBI examined four areas – housing, education, welfare and work – as well as the broader issues of public sector employment and taxation. The WBI analysis highlighted South Africa’s shift from direct to indirect taxation and the implicit gender bias of this shift.The regressive nature of the indirect tax bears disproportionately on women, precisely because the majority of the poor are women. The analysis also examined the impacts on women of a range of other types of tax and recommended that government tax data include gender breakdowns to facilitate more sophisticated analyses of the gender impact of taxation. In the late 1990s, the government followed some of the WBI recommendations and published the number of male and female taxpayers who submit returns.The WBI expanded its work over the years to encompass all sectors of the budget. In its fifth year, the WBI focused on tax issues, conducting a gender analysis of South Africa’s customs and excise taxes and examining gender issues in relation to local government revenue.
In some cases WBI’s analyses led to tangible policy results on tax issues. For instance, pressure from the WBI and other groups led the government to remove the VAT on paraffin, which is consumed heavily by the poor – this had a positive impact on women in particular, given that there are more women than men among those living in poverty and paraffin is largely bought by women.