Campaign blog

This weekend ActionAid celebrated International Women's Day in York with the Women Liberal Democrats at their 2014 Spring party conference.

Melanie Ward represents ActionAid at the Liberal Democrat Spring Conference 2014
Melanie Ward represents ActionAid at the Liberal Democrat Spring Conference 2014
Photo: ActionAid/Florence Richard De Vesvrotte

To mark the day we held a panel discussion with Baroness Northover, lead spokesperson in the House of Lords on International Development, Tessa Munt, MP for Wells and aide to Business Secretary Vince Cable, and our own Melanie Ward, Head of Advocacy for ActionAid UK.

Addressing a packed room, Melanie called for more action from the Government to tackle women’s economic inequality.  She also acknowledged all the good work being done post the Millenium Development Goals agenda to put an end to female genital mutilation and early marriage.

Championing Women's Economic Equality

Great challenges remain, however, so at the end of this year ActionAid will be launching a new campaign on the next greatest (and very difficult) challenge to reach gender balance: women’s economic inequality.

This will require confronting social and cultural preconceptions in our own countries and societies. Recognising women’s unpaid care work and the barriers to decent work will demand nations which think they are doing well in tackling gender inequality to redouble their efforts.

Involving women in the reconstruction of their future

2014 marks the year British troops are scheduled to withdraw from Afghanistan. Melanie called for the UK to make sure discussions over the country's future include at least one third of women participants at the negotiating table.

This is a continuation of ActionAid's relentless efforts these past three years to ensure women's full participation in the reconstruction of their future. Last week the issue was debated in Parliament again and Fiona O'Donnell MP wrote a blog strongly supporting women's representation.

Advocacy against Tax Avoidance

Last but not least, ActionAid participated in a competition to submit policy ideas to the Liberal Democrats. Our anti-tax-dodging pitch, which broadly asked the Liberal Democrats to take serious action to tackle tax avoidance, was listened to by the President of the Liberal Democrats Tim Farron MP, The Rt Hon David Laws MP, Dr Julian Huppert MP and some of the Deputy Prime Minister's advisers. We hope this is a piece of policy they will pick up as the general election approaches.

That's it from me on the Liberal Democrats Spring Conference 2014.

Tax justice campaigning from Zambia to Denmark

Natasha Adams's picture Natasha Adams Activism Officer

I had the amazing opportunity to visit ActionAid Zambia with a group of young activists from ActionAid Denmark a couple of weeks ago. Now our tax justice campaign has truly gone global, it’s great to see how different countries are learning from each other and working together to tackle tax dodging.

Zambia is a beautiful country, and the communities we visited were friendly and welcoming, but it was sobering to see the poverty of young farmers struggling to see hope for a better future however hard they worked.

We visited the copperbelt, and met activists and citizens from the communities that live next door to several large mines. Everywhere we went the story was the same - people complained about about the mines not paying their fair share and about pollution. Although the mines we visited had done some good work in communities, like building roads and refurbishing schools, the general consensus was that they weren’t doing nearly enough.

ActionAid Zambia partner organisation CTPD (Centre for Trade Policy and Development) works to challenge mining companies like Glencore, accused of dodging taxes in the country. When we visited the CTPD office, Programme Officer Nkula Edward Goma said “Over the last 10 years Zambia lost about $8.8bn through tax evasion and illicit financial flows: that is a lot of money that could alleviate poverty. Right now we have about 60% of people living below the poverty line, earning less than $2 a day. What belongs to Zambia should remain in Zambia …then maybe our people would be much better off.”

ActionAid Zambia launched their public campaign on tax justice last year with a march in Lusaka, joining the international call for Barclays to stop promoting tax havens in Africa. As we found out on the trip, campaigning in Zambia is not easy. My Zambian colleagues struggled for weeks to get the permit they needed for the march to happen, without which they could have faced jail for going ahead. This march was great example of global campaign collaboration, using facts from the UK ‘Time to Clean Up’ report, and gold jumpsuits similar to those used in the Danish tax power campaign (these suits came together for the first time in the picture above).

It was really inspiring to meet many young Zambian campaigners (part of the international Activista network), determined to campaign even when things are difficult. Charity Chizola, who studies law at the University of Zambia, had this message for tax justice campaigners from the UK and Denmark:  “They should keep fighting. Sometimes we do have a number of challenges and feel we shouldn’t go on, but what we are fighting for is greater, and is for the benefit of every citizen, every youth, every child, every elderly person that is out there.”

The trip ended with a day devoted to sharing our tax campaigning achievements from the UK, Denmark and Zambia, and we discussed how to strengthen links between ActionAid campaigners fighting for tax justice around the world. Danish students, also part of the Activista network, were getting ready for their tax justice themed Tour De Future cycle protest which travels across Denmark in the spring. Marie Uldall Thomsen, a Danish student, said “I didn't feel part of a global Network... But now after having been in Zambia, I have so many connections. It has a bigger effect to be able to say that this is a global campaign and everything that we do is being done in Zambia, UK, Uganda and so on.”

I’ve been inspired to work even harder to keep the pressure on Barclays since returning home –if Barclays stops promoting tax havens in Africa, this could be an important step forwards for countries like Zambia to collect the taxes they are due. We’re asking campaigners who want to do more to get their MP involved and to join the Community Campaigner network. 

It's International Women’s Day tomorrow - and it's got me thinking about the big issues that remain in the fight for women’s rights across the world. Street harrassment, violence against women and girls and economic inequality are widespread. 

Sandhya, 31, is part of a project working on unpaid care in Nepal.
Sandhya, 31, is part of a project working on unpaid care in Nepal.
Photo: NayanTara Gurung Kakshapati/ActionAid

There's so much to do, but the issue that comes to my mind is women's role in unpaid care. So often it still falls to women. It's tasks like housework, childcare, and caring for sick or elderly people - and it has a huge effect on women's lives and work.

In the last few days many column inches have been dedicated to how childcare in the UK now costs more than mortgage repayments. And attention has also been cast on news that the UK has fallen to 18th place in the Women in Work Index. At the top of the index are Nordic countries where, the study states, 'childcare and household tasks are shared more equally between parents'.

Unpaid care limits women's choices

Unpaid care is clearly still a big issue in the UK. Here women spend on average 258 minutes per day doing unpaid care, compared to men's 141 minutes. But it is an even bigger issue in many of the poor countries where ActionAid works where, despite the enormous value of women's work caring for others, fetching water, and feeding the family, this contribution is taken for granted. Why it falls to women to do all of this is something that is rarely questioned.

Unpaid care takes time - and it limits women's choices, the enjoyment of their rights and their freedom to participate in their communities and get a job. It locks women into a cycle of poverty. 

ActionAid is working to tackle the issue of unpaid care across many of the countries we work in. Projects in Nepal, Nigeria, Kenya and Uganda see communities tracking the amount of time spent on unpaid care work in time diaries. Sandhya, shown in the photo here, keeps such a diary. The diaries have made the work more valued and recognised - and men in the community have started sharing the burden.

There are many issues wrapped up in women’s rights. Unpaid care is just one of them, but it is an extremely important issue and ActionAid UK will be working more on it in the coming months.

International Women's Day

Working to improve women’s rights is central to ActionAid’s approach. We have lots planned to celebrate International Women’s Day – from a rally in Bangladesh addressing violence against women and girls; and an awareness-raising workshop around women’s rights to land in the DRC, to a radio show in Nigeria discussing the national unpaid care framework.

Here in the UK we will be commemorating the day at the Women of the World Festival which is showing a play called ‘Nirbhaya’ about the brutal rape of a young woman in Delhi at the end of last year. The attack sparked global news coverage. We have created an installation at the event for people to add their  messages. It's there to help break the silence surrounding violence against women and girls.

There is lots of exciting and important work around women’s rights going on around the world. I wonder how far we will have come, especially on the issue of unpaid care, by International Women’s Day next year.

This month I visited Chingola in Zambia’s northern Copperbelt region, to see for myself the real impact of tax dodging in a country where 2 in 3 people live below the poverty line, and 45% of children are malnourished.

Photograph of Francis Lukwesa (18) and his cousin Abril Kachiza (15) in front of the land they farm in Zambia
Francis Lukwesa (18) and his cousin Abril Kachiza (15) in front of the land they farm
Photo: ActionAid/Caroline Jones

Poverty forces young people out of school and into work 

In a small village called Mushishima, I met Francis, an eighteen year old who spends 12 hours of every day farming the land beside their modest home. Francis used to love maths at school, and dreamt of one day running his own grocery shop. However the 10 Kwacha fee per month was too much for his parents to provide, and he was pulled out of school in grade 7. 

The work Francis does in the fields doesn’t even cover the cost of maize he needs to feed himself. He thinks he’ll probably end up working for one of the mines soon – the mines accused of polluting their water and making the community ill - just to survive. I asked Francis’s aunty, Enala, what her hopes were for the future of her children. Her crushing reply was, “There is no hope.”

It's a tragedy that millions of children are missing out on an education because governments have to charge fees. But there is hope for the future. The global movement for tax justice is building, with 21 countries now signed up across the ActionAid federation.

Multinationals' tax income could make a real difference

While the future of Francis and his family is painfully uncertain, the need for all multinationals to pay their fair share of taxes to provide accountable, sustainable income is clearer to me than ever. With greater tax revenues, Zambia could make universal education a reality, and young people like Francis could fulfil their ambitions and contribute to the development of their country.

Saying our goodbyes, Enala said simply, “I am you, and you are me”.

I’ll carry these words with me, along with the buried hopes of Francis and millions of others like him, to remind me why we must continue to fight for tax justice, side by side with people trapped in poverty - in the UK, Zambia, and across the world.

Support the campaign for Tax Justice

Your campaigning opened the door for a meeting with Barclays

Eva Watkinson's picture Eva Watkinson Campaigns Engagement Manager

All the campaigning to make Barclays stop promoting tax havens to companies investing in Africa is starting to pay off. This week your actions opened the door to a meeting with Barclays where we put your points across. 

ActionAid campaigners, Lusaka, Zambia

Campaigners in Zambia marched to Barclays head office to demand the bank clean up its act, and activists in Nigeria have been helping to spread the word about the campaign. Here in the UK campaigners paid local branches a visit over Christmas, asking the bank if they’d be naughty or nice this year, and thousands of us bombarded Barclays customer complaints form with messages like Jim’s below.

‘I want you to stop promoting the use of tax havens, which is seriously harming the economies of poor countries. This is unethical and is very harmful to your own reputation’ Jim, ActionAid campaigner

Despite the fact that Barclays is yet to respond to your customer complaints (Barclays’ boss did send an email after campaigners first contacted them. You can read our response here), all the pressure has meant we got a meeting with some of Barclays’s top execs last week.

At the meeting we put our case across about why promoting tax havens to countries investing in Africa drains vital resources from the continent and re-iterated your call for them to change. They promised to respond to your complaints, and the meeting was a great first step in getting Barclays to change their ways. 

We’ve only managed to make this progress because so make people have taken action and got involved with the campaign. Without the public pressure of thousands of campaigners we wouldn’t have got a foot in the door.

So, what’s next? We’ve let them know we expect action and we’re not letting up. Now it’s crucial that we keep up the pressure in the run up to Barclays’ shareholder AGM in April.

Right now you can help by asking your friends and family to take action at

Well done and happy campaigning!

Ha Joon Chang talk - bringing production back into development

Anna Thomas's picture Anna Thomas Head of Policy Research

ActionAid’s approach to development is all about empowering people in developing countries to claim their rights. To do this, we focus on areas such as the right to food and the right to education. But are we missing something – is this model of development like seeing Hamlet with the Prince of Denmark absent? Cambridge economist Ha Joon Chang thinks so.

Ha Joon Chang speaking at ActionAid UK
Ha Joon Chang speaking at ActionAid UK
Photo: Claire Donner/ActionAid

Today he addressed a meeting at ActionAid with the proposition that there is a need to move beyond a focus on poverty reduction, to look again at production. Until the 1980s, there was consensus among development theorists, from right to left, that development is about transforming a country’s productive capabilities, so that it becomes able to produce higher-value goods as well as commodities, therefore generating more wealth. Over the last three decades, however, with the focus on poverty reduction and meeting basic needs, the importance of this has been lost.

Chang sees three reasons for this:

  1. The rise of neoliberalism, the currently dominant economic paradigm, which has much to say about market exchange but little about production of the goods to be exchanged. Chicago economist Coase called this (scathingly) ‘the economics of lone individuals exchanging nuts and berries on the edge of the forest.’ However, countries have in reality always developed based on some intervention in the market.
  2. The humanist reaction against the collectivist biases of earlier development models. They were all about savings, investment, surplus labour and aggregates, and the individual person hardly featured, or worse, was repressed. However, development of people’s abilities occurs mainly within businesses, ‘on the job’, not at school or in individual situations.
  3. The post industrialist model where countries can skip straight to an economic focus on services, without ever developing a strong manufacturing sector. However, this idea is somewhat illusory. States lauded for their service sectors, like Switzerland and Singapore, in fact have very strong productive sectors too.

Instead, he believes, countries need to focus on their productive sectors – taking parts of the ‘old’ ways from the 50s and 60s, but adding more recent thinking incorporation of technical innovation and knowledge about enterprise development.

Countries need to move beyond dependence on commodities like food crops or minerals, to transform their economies to encompass sectors which generate more wealth. Not only will this result in poverty reduction, he believes, but also provide the only material foundation without which people’s rights cannot to be realised.

What are your thoughts?

Photo: @ActionAid

Tags: Big ideas