I spoke at the excellent Woman’s Place UK conference  at University College London on 1 Febuary 2020  — in the opening plenary with Pragna Patel of Southall Black Sisters and Joanna Cherry QC MP, Chaired by Professor Sophie Scott. WPUK

Wow! This is going to be an  be an amazing conference.

I am overwhelmed to be here on a panel with Pragna and Joanna.  It is an unexpected turn in my life

  • I am not an academic feminist
  • or professional feminist.
  • I am not a radical feminist.
  • I am not a socialist feminist,

I am just a feminist

I am an ordinary woman who knows what a woman is and who refused to shut up about it. 

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Continue reading ‘Women’s Liberation 2020: My Speech’

I spoke at the Women’s Place UK meeting in London on May 20th, as a last minute stand in alongside Julie Bindel, Selina Todd and Meghan Murphy. It was a brilliant night.

Helen Lewis wrote in the New Statesman: “The packed hall felt like the birth, or rebirth, of something. A feminism unafraid to talk about the female body. A rejection of the extremes of identity politics. And – just as radically – a movement that happens in the real world rather than purely online.”

Continue reading ‘Sex, gender and development’

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The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa report on Fiscal Policy for Financing Sustainable Development is a serious piece of work.  But it contains the latest in a long series of silly numbers which inflate perceptions of the scale of revenue at stake from multinational corporate tax avoidance.

It says tackling  base erosion and profit shifting by major multinationals in Africa could boost tax revenue by an estimated additional 2.7 per cent of GDP.  That works out at around $60 billion, bigger still than  Kofi Annan’s much repeated big number from 2013 (which was based on a misunderstanding of a whole different set of numbers)  and more than current levels of  annual inward FDI.

Where does this number come from? Is there any reason to think its the right number now? And if not why does nobody notice?

Continue reading ‘2.7% of GDP: another big number to take with a huge pinch of salt on multinational tax avoidance in Africa’

[Revised version – thanks to Lucia Cizmaziova for pointing that I had mistyped the ICIJ data for the UK and Denmark – my spreadsheet is here]

Three years ago the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) revealed that 11.5 million documents had been leaked from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca. Recently they toted up the numbers from 22 countries on revenues recovered.

The total comes to $1.2 billion. This figure will include tax settlements covering several years as well as penalties. Currently it amounts to 0.01% of GDP of those countries. There will be other cases still unsettled, so more money will come in. And of course these figures only includes the direct revenues collected as the result of investigations. There are also likely to be additional revenue resulting from broader behaviour changes by taxpayers and from policy changes brought in the wake of the scandal.

Continue reading ‘How much money has been recovered as a result of the Panama Papers?’

In response to joint statement on trans-solidarity on behalf of feminists for fiscal justice, tax and economic policies.

Dear Kate, Chiara, David, Liz, Fariya, Caroline, Neelanaja, Yamini, Ana, and Roosje

We all agree that no one should have their right to liberty, security or life violated by violence. People should not face discrimination in access to healthcare, work or housing because of the way they dress, because they have a health condition, because they may have had plastic surgery or take medication or because they believe, or disbelieve, in the idea of innate gender identity. 

But I disagree with your statement that the class of people with the type of body that has the capacity* to produce ova and to gestate a foetus does not need a name, nor any analysis or political movement, or specific protection for their rights. 

I still find it flabbergasting that this is promoted and accepted (by some) as a feminist idea.

I am talking about the half of the population who will menstruate, and therefore need access to privacy and sanitation in order to complete school and to travel beyond their homes, who need access to contraception and abortion, healthcare in pregnancy and birth, support and accommodation for breastfeeding.  This is the class of people who are most often victims of sexual assault, which is carried out in the vast majority of cases by people with the other type of body (and which brings with it risk of pregnancy). 

People with this type of body are on average, and at the extremes, less strong, less fast and smaller than the other type of human and thus face specific risks, have different capacities in relation to sport and need (but often do not get) specific consideration in design of safety equipment and medicine.

In lower income countries children with this type of body are less likely to complete primary or secondary education, and with each year of education missed they are more likely to give birth while still children themselves. Early childbearing, higher total fertility and lower educational attainment reduce their earning power, and this in turn affects their power and voice within households.

Around the world this class of people undertake the majority work in raising children. Their working lives outside the home and their financial welfare are disproportionately impacted by parenthood and care. Historically they have been considered second class citizens; wards of their father and then of their husband, not fully legally or financially autonomous.  If they do not or cannot fulfil this social role they face censure that is specific to people with this body type.  In some countries they are still legally excluded from passing citizenship on to their children, from driving, from inheriting property. They are restricted by religious codes and by laws. Here is a map of when they got the right to vote.


As feminists you say that this class of people no longer needs a  name?

You say that we should ignore the ““biological” sex binary” because it “bears no relation to gendered patterns of economic, social and political exclusion”.

You say that there is no need for an analysis which focuses on the specific risks and issues that affect the half the world that has this type of body, (and their relation with the other half) because you say any such analysis “bears no relation to modern scientific understandings of the expression of sexual differentiation”.

I find these statements impossible to agree with (and I find it hard to believe that you really believe in them).

Why are you discarding the evidence of the masses of studies (including by your own organisations) which look at binary, sex differentiated data and find that people with the ova-producing type of body are disadvantaged in society, and have different outcomes from those with the sperm producing type of body – in education, employment, crime, health, access to finance, economic welfare? Why are you discarding analysis which considers the power structures that have developed to secure paternity by controlling the lives of people with the ova-producing types of body? Why is it not important to notice that people with the sperm producing type of bodies remain disproportionately represented in the upper echelons of politics, business, government, religion and every institution of power, and people with the ova-producing type of bodies are disproportionately represented in the low-paid jobs of cleaning, catering and care?

Without words or analysis how can we talk about this?  How is it feminist not to talk about this? I think you have given away too much in the name of solidarity.

[* If all things are working  -none of this excludes from this sex category people with this body type who have disorders of sexual development, or who are infertile, or have had organs removed, or who are pre-pubescent or post-menopausal]

Arve Ofstad was the Norwegian Ambassador to Zambia from 2011 to 2016. He has written an article titled Misleading Numbers on Capital Flight” in the business newspaper Dagens Næringsliv about the often repeated myth of billion dollar illicit financial flows from Zambia through mispricing of copper exports.  Here is my (Google assisted) translation of his article.

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The caption reads: “Gross export revenue from the mining sector, which is relatively expensive to operate in Zambia, has varied around six to seven billion USD a year. No one has been able to explain how two-three and maybe four billion dollars could disappear annually from an economy of this size”

Continue reading ‘Misleading Numbers About Illicit Financial Flows: The Former Norwegian Ambassador to Zambia speaks up’

Following the series of stories emerging from the ‘Paradise Papers’ has been like unpacking a Christmas stocking. While each individual item may be underwhelming in itself, the overall effect is designed to be thrilling.

The ICIJ say that the parade of cases that they have profiled are ones that ‘expose significant failures and weaknesses inside the offshore industry’. But as we unpack the stocking of stories, there are many that seem to be there simply because of the glitter and shine of the names involved. The Queen invested $7.5 million in a Cayman Fund. Prince Charles invested in forest conservation through a Bermuda based carbon credits start-up. The Universities of Oxford and Cambridge invested tens of millions offshore. Madonna, Bono, Shakira and Nicole Kidman are amongst the celebrity names, while Harvey Weinstein, Martha Stewart, people connected to Donald Trump are handy villains.

Many have jumped to the conclusion that the Paradise Papers reveals massive tax avoidance and evasion by the rich and powerful, and complicity by offshore actors. In the UK, Margaret Hodge called an emergency debate in Parliament and argued that “the paradise papers reveals the enormity and scale of the problem”, speaking of “ill-gotten gains of tax dodging”.  But it is not all that surprising that details of the assets of international businesses and celebrities are found in the files of a major offshore law firm.

Rasmus Christensen and Jeremy Cape both highlight the risk of bundling legal and illegal behaviour together and jumping to rash politically satisfying responses, rather than undertaking deliberated, effective reform where they are needed.  Rasmus argues that we risk eliding the very bad with the not-so-bad. But in fact the risk is worse than this. We risk bundling the socially useful, the very bad and the not so bad.

Continue reading ‘Making sense of the paradise papers’