The $100-trillion gender wealth gap is an outrage: can Davos get behind a global economy that actually works for women?

Lurit Yugusuk Gender, In the news, Inequality

With billions of women still underpaid, exploited and bearing the brunt of unjust tax, care and climate policies, we need to hear how the Davos elite will play its part in building a feminist economic future, say Lurit Yugusuk and Imali Ngusale of the African Women’s Development and Communication Network, FEMNET. (Lisez ce blog en français ici)

Mariam is part of a cooperative in Mali that makes improved cooking firepits, which reduce deforestation and the time women have to spend collecting firewood. Oxfam’s Inequality Inc report calls for more policy action to support women’s domestic work and unpaid care (picture: Diafara Traoré/Oxfam)

Oxfam’s new Davos report reveals that globally men now own US$105 trillion more wealth than women – a difference in wealth that is more than four times the size of the entire US economy. As activists in a pan-African feminist network working to advance women’s rights and amplify their voices, we and our 800-plus member organisations across 50 countries ask the world’s political and corporate leaders at the Davos summit a simple question: are you ready to act to end this stark gender injustice?

The Inequality Inc report reveals how, since 2020, the richest five men in the world have doubled their fortunes. It sets out how the corporate power of irresponsible male billionaires is escalating. Old imperialist tactics are resurfacing as women workers in the Global South are exploited and see their national resources plundered.

The report also reveals how the wealthy dodge taxes that could pay for decent public services and benefit from the privatisation of essential public goods for profit. As we set out below, all of these hit the world’s women particularly hard and create formidable obstacles to delivering gender equality and women’s rights.

How billionaire and corporate power undermines equality

Corporations and the billionaires who own much of them are simply not paying women workers enough. In many industries, particularly those driven by multinational corporations, women face low wages, poor working conditions, and limited job security. The report highlights how agri-food chains in particular are rife with violations of women’s rights and systemic exploitation.

The report also points out that, out of more than 1,600 of the largest companies in the world, only 24% have a public commitment to gender equality. Globally, only one in three businesses are owned by women, while “old boys’ club” ownership structures hold back female talent.

The result of all this is a vast gender pay gap: women earn just 51 cents for every $1 in labor income earned by men. And women’s inequality in the labor market is further  compounded by other inequalities, such as race or immigration status; women immigrant workers can be found doing the worst jobs in most societies, for the lowest pay and with the worst protection.

It is estimated that at current rates of progress, it will take 257 years to close the gender pay gap around the world. This economic exploitation not only reinforces existing gender disparities but also restricts women’s access to resources and opportunities, hindering their ability to break free from cycles of poverty.

It’s not just low pay: the gender impact of privatisation and tax dodging

The privatisation of essential services such as schools and health so often championed by billionaire and corporate interests further hurts women and girls. Over the years, the private sector has been linked with neglect of women’s routine healthcare needs; with reductions in girls’ access to schooling, as families with limited resources prioritise boys’ education; and with increases in labour force inequality. The report reveals how, despite gender parity in Tunisia’s public primary schools, the share of girls in its private schools drops to 30%.

Women pay for privatisation as users of public services; as workers, given their disproportionate employment in the public sector; and as the main providers of unpaid care work (see below), which must increase to fill the gaps in public provision. 

Alongside this, women are hit as corporates and billionaires dodge the taxes that could pay for decent public services, engaging in aggressive tax avoidance and evasion. In Africa, that means our governments are being deprived of crucial revenue needed for social programmes benefitting women and girls. The report cites the case of Nigeria, where despite an extremely high maternal mortality rate, the government in 2020 proposed cutting the primary health budget by over 40% to deal with the economic fallout of COVID-19.

It is estimated that illicit financial flows, including tax evasion, cost African countries approximately $50 billion annually, money that could be allocated to rights-based essential services. Moreover, the unchecked power of billionaire corporations to influence tax policy and manipulate tax structures further undermines efforts to raise the revenue we need for a society where women can realise their rights and full potential.  

How inaction on climate hurts women

According to a previous report by Oxfam on “Carbon Billionaires”, the wealthiest 1% of humanity are responsible for twice as many emissions as the poorest 50% and by 2030, their carbon footprints are set to be 30 times greater than the level compatible with the 1.5C goal of the Paris Agreement. Further, industrial agriculture also bears great responsibility, with 21-37% of greenhouse gas emissions from 2007-2016 attributed to the global food system

The report points out how women, and particularly poorer women, are then left to pay a higher price for environmental degradation as they tend to have “less access to relief and assistance, lower survival rates following climate-related disasters, and increased care responsibilities. They also face greater risks from the effects of heat stress as well as risks related to maternal and child health.”

Profiting from unpaid care worth trillions

The report also reminds us how women’s disproportionate share of unpaid and underpaid care and domestic work props up corporate profits, with “women and girls effectively subsidising the economy by doing more than three-quarters of the unpaid care work worldwide. In 2020, Oxfam estimated that the monetary value of unpaid care work carried out by women globally is at least $10.8 trillion annually – three times the size of the global tech industry.”

Towards corporate social responsibility and a feminist economy

The realisation of women’s and girls’ rights means moving beyond mere lip service towards a socio-economic model that fosters gender equality on a global scale.

We need a shift towards feminist economic alternatives. At FEMNET we want to see these first steps:

  1. Targeted public investment in gender-transformative public goods and services, as well as an end to the privatisation of the public goods and services that benefit women and girls most.
  2. Transparent corporate reporting on gender pay gaps and climate goals as part of efforts to enhance accountability.
  3. Inclusive economic policies, such as progressive taxation, including imposing wealth taxes, and providing social safety nets, to ensure equitable resource distribution
  4. Building a feminist economy that fearlessly promotes an economic system that values unpaid and paid care work, prioritises social well-being, and centres gender equality.

This year at Davos, feminists will be holding billionaire corporate power to account for fuelling gender inequality. We demand transparency, systemic change, and for the powerful to hear the voices of the women most affected. We need a fundamental shift so that the immense power wielded by the world’s corporate titans is used to build a more just and equitable world for all.

As Rokeya Rafique, executive director, of Bangladeshi women’s rights organisation Karmojibi Nari, says in her foreword to the new Oxfam report: “These billionaires have more money than a garment worker could earn in a thousand lifetimes. Who could ever justify such wealth built on the suffering of my sisters sweating each day?”


Lurit Yugusuk

Lurit Yugusuk is the Economic Justice Assistant at the African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET)


Imali Ngusale

Imali Ngusale is Communication Officer at the African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET)

This is the second Views and Voices blog for Davos 2024. Catch up on all our Davos blogs here and follow us on Twitter/X and LinkedIn for the latest Davos content. And read the full report for this year’s Davos: Inequality Inc.: How corporate power divides our world and the need for a new era of public action

Find out more: Check out Oxfam’s Valuing Women’s Work campaign here; and this blog setting out why we are calling for governments to look beyond GDP and develop new economic metrics that value women and climate.