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Do Muslim Women Pay Tax in African History? Taxation, Gender and Informal Economy in Kano
DO MUSLIM WOMEN PAY TAX IN AFRICAN HISTORY? TAXATION, GENDER AND
INFORMAL ECONOMY IN KANO
Mutiat Titilope Oladejo Ph.D
Department of History,
University of Ibadan,
DO MUSLIM WOMEN PAY TAX IN AFRICAN HISTORY? TAXATION, GENDER AND
INFORMAL ECONOMY IN KANO
• Muslim societies in Africa have peculiarities and perception about the role
of women in public sphere. In historical perspective, new versions of
Islamism reconstruct gender relations to exclude women from public roles
in Muslim societies. Often, paternalistic ideologies reiterate the
significance of men in public sphere. However, domesticity and seclusion
are ascribed to women. This paper examines the work of women in Kano’s
informal sector. It argues that the hidden nature of women’s work in the
informal sector sets the agenda to interrogate their exposure to taxation.
It is a qualitative study with evidence based narratives from field work
conducted on the informal sector. The work adopts a multidisciplinary
approach to integrate the historical method. The analysis of women’s
encounters of taxation in Kano intersects the cause of gender and religion.
Ultimately, Kano women’s experiences of taxation shapes the direction of
policy for sustainable development.
• With the aforementioned (in the epigraph) the status of women in Muslim societies and
particularly the Hausa is locked up in the reality. In the conceptual frame posited by Zakaria (2001),
it was agreed that Hausa women are absent in open economic women are absent in open
economic activity and discourses rarely focus on them as it remains controversial and inconclusive.
• The historical path to women’s taxation in Muslim societies is almost answered in the fact that their
work is hidden and entangled in traditional Islamic belief that perceived the home as solely the
domain of existence.
• Culturally, studies in the status of women in Muslim societies aggregate the thoughts that women
are not to be in public because of sexual reasons. In the context of slavery that ravaged Arabian
cum African societies before the twentieth century found it sensible by jurisprudence to prevent
women from being captured into slavery (Ali 2016) In this regard Callaway (1987) accounted that
biases to female was a function of cultural considerations and not biological.
• Gender roles of pre-twentieth century Kano is quite problematic to decipher. While it remains a
complicated exercise because Europeans accounts, and those of Chroniclers concentrated on
masculine-oriented narratives, thus, increasing misconceptions on the role of women in Islamic
• Understanding the trajectories of Muslim women in the past spatially is located in the
demographics along the lines encompassed in Trans Saharan trade in West Africa (involving states
in west and central Sudan) and with those of North Africa.
• Between historical and current realities, the discourse takes to
cognisance the accounts of chroniclers and historians to articulate
the trends of tax use in African history. While there are no stated
evidences of how women precisely paid tax, their membership of
society implies latent roles, of which they contributed to labour that
enhanced the payment of tributes to the fifteenth century. Based
on a field work on Hausa women working from home in Kano, it
was realised that the culture of taxation had its dynamics profound
in the nature of the hidden economies.
• The fieldwork entailed one-on-one interviews with female
entrepreneurs with different levels of education, selected from
major local government areas in Kano city. Analysis of the informal
sector and gender utilised secondary sources such as books and
journals. The definition of the informal sector and women’s work
• The network of trade lines attests to the vastness which cannot be devoid of any
gender. Therefore in the latent realities of women’s economic activity, the
implications in the era of African modernity are fundamental in development
discourse. Thus, the place of female taxation in Muslim societies intersects the
aims of Sustainable Development Goal related to women this states that: the fifth
goal of (SDG) in the description of UN entails provision for women, decent work,
healthcare, education, and representation in political and economic decision-
• This aspect fits into this research outline to utilize the parameters of taxation in
the work of women in the informal sector. In support of the development of
women in the informal sector in this regard is in the targets of the eighth goal of
the SDG which points to:
• Promote development-oriented policies that support productive activities, decent
job creation, entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation, and encourage the
formalization and growth of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises, including
through access to financial services.
• Here, this work counts on Pamela Pozarny’s work to situate the triad of gender, taxation and the
informal economy. Pozarny (2016) affirms that gender roles occur in different contexts and are
heterogeneous. The heterogeneity is evident in complexities and barriers confronting women when
compared to men. (Tacoli & Satterth Waibe, 2013; Reichlin & Shaw 2015). Therefore, inequalities
are rooted in gender ideologies. The position statement in this work understands that the ideology
of regarding women’s work as limited to the home, and not reckoned with in taxation.
• In this regard Moser (2016) analyse women’s economic empowerment as a political process which
entails the ability to take control of time and resources. In this female agency and power of
collective action is important, and in the context of the informal economy in Kano, Zakaria (2001)
describes the universality associated with Muslim women as oppressed, subjugated and retarded,
and seen as objects of pity. This view is clearly expressed in the works of Hills (1982).
• However, Callaway (1987) expresses that such experiences are universal and only vary by culture. It
is within this frame work that Zakaria (2001) attempts to construct Hausa women’s economic
activity along the line that despite the secluded nature of women’s economic activity, and not in
the open market, it contributes significantly to economic advancement of the society.
Gender and Taxation in Hausa History
• The coherence of taxation and gender is evident in the history of Hausa societies. With the trans
Saharan trade and Islam, and in spite of seclusion, some non-concubine slave women assisted in
grain tax collection in line with the work of massive food production. In practice, non-concubine
slave women. Since the sixteenth century in Kano palace generated revenues through non-
concubines slave women. (Nast 1996).
• The level of urbanisation at which Islam spread in ancient empires of Ghana and Mali points to the
fact that the Trans Saharan trade had created forms of civilization. Such were profound in Islamic
principles and accepted by the nobles and aristocrats.
• At this level, links with North Africa exposed the aggregates of Islamic principles to West Africa as
analysed by Hunwick (1965) while, there were waves of expansion and correspondence that aided
the application of Islamic law to everyday social economic realities, the lives of women in the
context of the spread and legitimacy was rarely documented by chroniclers, thereafter, scholarly
writings were basically masculinised. Exceptions to this are the records of thirty-four year rule of
Queen Amina that used taxes to build walls for territorial diplomacy in the sixteenth century.
Women, Taxation and Informal Economy
• The triad is women, taxation and the informal economy are polarised and yet it is in a nexus. Given
Women in Informal Economy, Globalizing and Organising (WIEGO)’s classification, the triad is linked
together. Taxation is taken within the frame of Nigerian National Tax Policy (NTP) 2012. Policy
statements contained therein is a pre-cursor to the kind of taxation involving women in the context
of the Nigerian State. Women in the informal sector are articulated in the forms of work as market
and street vendors; home workers; and waste pickers. Scholarly analysis situated this work in the
conceptual frames of the informal economy which states thus: (1) The Dualist School: The informal
sector is regarded as marginal economy distinct from and not related to the formal sector (ILO
1972, Tokman 1978). Here there is a disconnect between people’s work and the structure of
• (2) The Structuralist School: The informal economy is regarded as subordinated microenterprise
where workers serve to reduce input and labour costs, also, tend to increase competitiveness of
large capitalist firms. Here, the informal sector is seen to be dependent on the activities of the
formal sector. And there is the proposition that should address the unequal relationships. (Moser
• (3) The Legalist School: This school regards the informal sector as that; which tends to operate
microenterprises informally to avoid the cost of formality. It is argued that businesses operate with
their own extra-legal forms. (de soto 2000).
• (4) The Voluntarist School: This school focuses on informal entrepreneurs who seek to avoid
taxation, but remain silent on mainstreaming into legal forms. Here, informality is taken as a
constant option when cost-benefit anlaysis are compared to formality.
• Ultimately, women’s work in the informal economy is defined in one way or the other along these
lines. From the colonial era, the economies in Nigeria largely encourage the influx of women to
generate income in urban areas. From then, market women in the cities of western Nigeria made
fortunes from trading in the informal sector that is in the markets (Oladejo, 2015). The colonial
state used taxation as an instrument to generate income and ever since, women, especially in
western and eastern Nigeria are profoundly in western and eastern Nigeria are profoundly at the
initial stage rejected the idea of female taxation, but ultimately it was accepted and used to
negotiate women’s representation in governance (Oladejo ([forthcoming]).
• Beyond the definitions given by WIEGO, the informal economy in Nigeria and women’s
involvement predated international attention and the context of female taxation had been
controversial. The trend of governance after Nigeria’s independence in 1960, shifted attention to
taxation in the formal sector of public service and organised private sector. Thus, the informal
henceforth featured precarity and vulnerabilities.
• Scholarly analysis articulated interventions to reduce the vulnerabilities of workers in the
informal sector, but in the conceptual frame analysed earlier, policy interests are bothered around
corporate investment and without the expectation that informal economies could transform into
formality. Invariably, female taxation is a welfarist perspective to ensure rights to social services are
guaranteed in development. In the analysis of Kate Meagher, it was reiterated that the colonial tax
system dissociated the citizens from valuing taxation and … resentment to the state in the ideas of
Muslim Women’s Closed Economy in Kano
• Historically, as pointed out earlier, the economy of women’s work was openly associated with the pre-
Islamic times (Paden 1973). Therefore, Islam brought seclusion for various reasons, and in the case of
Kano, (and other Hausa societies) the expansionist activities of Uthman Dan Fodio challenged the legacies
that promoted Queen Amina and women’s activities in public life, including the markets. In support of the
view that taxation was collected by female nobility, the Kano chronicle sums up. Queen Amina’s power to
agglomerate tributes thus:
• At this time Zaria, under Queen Amina, conquered all the towns as far as Kwararafa and Nupe. Every town
paid tribute to her and her conquest lasted for thirty four years (Ifemesia, 1965).
• Understanding her reign with regards to collection of tributes (tax) indicates the governance systems she
adopted. In the narratives of M.G. Smith, the walls built to protect her kingdom (territories implies mass
use of resources, of which taxes paid by conquered territories were used to build sixteenth century Hausa
society. Before the eighteenth century, Islam had not strictly uprooted women from economic activities, of
which they must have been involved in taxation before Uthman Dan Fodio’s activities. Or women’s status
could be in a state of open and closed economy, given the fact that Islam had been in Hausa societies since
the eleventh century. Scholars such as Barth (1965); Hiskett (1973, 1984); Smith (1983); Boyd and Murray
(1985) analysed the background to the way women’s economic activities are confined to the home.
• In both rural and urban Kano, the idea of female seclusion and a closed economy is over
generalised in contemporary times. Contacts with western education, positively-oriented non-
Islamic cultures redefine the way of informal businesses in the circuits of closed economy. An
official of Kano State Internal Revenue Service articulated that several Kano women do own
business in terms of production, domestic and foreign trade. They operate from homes and it is
quite difficult to identify them because they are not documented in public platforms for business
• In the field work that engaged work-at-home Hausa women in Kano, they argue that they
are absolutely excluded from public policies that provide social services and promote businesses.
However, with the changing scope of commercialization in African cities, Kano inclusive, the
narratives of operating a closed business in an informal economy is changing. Just as Coles (1991)
articulated about 80 percent of Hausa women do informal jobs and self-managed income-
generating activities. And to an extent, they even hire men to work for them in marketing. From
field work, opinions of Kano women in the informal sector in 2018 support Cole’s assertion of pre-
1990. They work productively to generate incomes, even for the international market (A number of
them get their products to United Kingdom, Malaysia, China, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and
Morocco and so on,)
• In the theoretical framework of the informal economy as explained earlier it implies that
Kano women’s informal economic activities is gradually reaching the formalization level as
propounded by the … school. Therefore, a paradigm shift from closed to open economy in Kano
women’s work is emerging.
Do Kano Women in the Informal Sector Pay Tax?
• Justified in the historical trajectories and nuances of contemporary informal sector, Muslim women
in Kano rarely get assessed for taxation. Female revenue collectors in the Kano State Internal
Revenue Service were of the view that women own big informal businesses in town, but it remains
problematic to make them comply.
• Indirectly, compliance rolls with the understanding of tax worth by the payer and realising
its benefit for the growth of individual business. For Hausa businesswomen owners, taxation can
only be meaningful if its benefit help promote their businesses because working from home is
challenged in the context of political economy of Nigeria. Hence, urban governance dovetails into
the way of tax assessment for Muslim women and the assurances for meaningful tax worth. The
agglomeration of opinion states:
• We can be eager to pay tax, if only we see the importance of tax payment to the growth of our
businesses. We are Nigerian citizens, we feel the economic problems in our businesses.
• Given the unnoticed status of women’s informal businesses, the level of information technology
brings the propensity online marketing have on educated Hausa women. The use of online
marketing as prevalent profoundly shapes the way educated young women rent business spaces for
warehouse to sell imported household needs. Therefore, new opening of businesses and
contemporary modernisation implies a lot for taxation.
• Findings from Hausa women in the informal sector imply that they
are not reckoned with in tax collection. Tax compliance is a
• For women, taxation remains non-applicable, and the views of
revenue collectors imply that since they work from home it is
almost impossible to include them in the tax net.
• Mostly, Membership Based Organisations (MBOs) are
agglomerations where collective actions of women in Kano’s
informal sector exist. MBOs are forms of engagement groups that
appear like feminised work groups dedicated to industries on a
• Craft Based Work Groups (CBWG) also exists in various local
government areas, whose products matter in the market channel of
the urban centres. CBWG are cooperatives through which the work
of women from semi-urban towns are organised.
• Studies on Kano women showed that 62.3% in rural areas and 37.7% in
urban areas work and yet are prone to poverty and thus need alleviation
programmes. (Bello, 2016) Invariably, the perspective of poverty is
indicative that their work is unrecognized in urban governance and
therefore not taken into policy issues. The significance of women’s work to
taxation in Kano’s informal economy is evident in a USAID funded study
• For instance, women’s work of home-based processing in Kano
municipality indicates a business chain that links street food vending that
caters for family income. Working condition identified required business
spaces and better processing technologies to improve profit. Non-
reckoning with these heeds in governance dovetails into taxation in the
perspective that such works are not subject to taxation.
Imperatives for Kano women’s
• In the words of Glucksmann (1995), it is until the economic activities of women are embedded in the conceptual
definition of work that it becomes recognised. Work in contemporary times among Kano women can be moved to
the public space within the constructs legitimate to the society and ultimately mainstreamed to taxation for
effective women’s development as spelt out in SDG 5. In consonance with findings from fieldwork, a study by
Muhammed (2011) showed that Kano women own businesses indirectly, while men serve as syndicates. Men are
hired to work for women in transport business. Statistical evidence showed that 43% of tricycles belonged to
women, in turn biro men to do driving work and remit daily returns. By implication, the level of informality implied
that such female owner businesses are not registered not taxed and could not be considered in policy.
• The cosmopolitan nature of Kano embeds the issues of urban governance of which female taxation matters. In the
works of Jo Beall, urban governance must be gender-sensitive. That is equitable, sustainable and effective (Beall,
1996). Therefore, the constructions of gender in the informal economy of Kano revolves increased women’s
participation in business in such a way that it is recognised and matters in planning. Aggregation of empowerment
procedures attests to the fact that governance neglects the reasons for women’s work; rather it focuses on
unsustainable empowerment programmes. The link between urban governance and gender is for governance to
identify the context of the environment to situate policies, this as noted in the World Conference on Metropolitan
Governance Meeting in 1993. (World Conference on Metropolitan Governance, 1993). The meaning of gender in
urban governance is an embodiment of participation, responsibility and civic engagement.
• Therefore, taxation is a fundamental responsibility to mainstream women’s interests and development.
findings from Kano women in the informal sector necessitates approaches as identified by Beall that women get
represented in public offices and political structures; women’s active participation in advocacy and non-
governmental platforms; and inclusive urban relations.
• It is apt to conclude that Islamic history before the twentieth century accounted for the gendered
variations. Colonial entrenchments of patriarchy were also logical factors that excluded women
from the formal economy in Kano. Before the twenty-first century, low involvement of women in
the formal economy was low and by the seclusion policy attached to Islam, women’s work from
home remains a feature of informal economy which contributes to the society. However, in
modernized Muslim states, women are conspicuous in emerging markets. According to New York
Times the number of women working in Muslim countries is increasing Across the 30 largest
emerging market Muslim countries, 100 million women were working in 2002. Today that number
is 155 million. Economic necessity, more education, new technologies and changing social norms
have been at the core of this shift. (New York Times May 25, 2018 ) Within this context, education
and entrepreneurship created condition that generate new set of women that adopt technology
and change the stereotypes from within.
• New thoughts on taxation in the informal economy in the precursor of women’s involvement in
Kano should be lensed in “the New Fiscal Sociology” where in taxation interface politics and
governance (Keen, 2012; Martin, Mehrotra and Prasad, 2009). The concept implies that taxing the
informal sector enhances growth through governance in developing countries. Furthermore, it
implies tax bargaining to enhance provision of social services and public accountability. Ultimately
taxation should translate a political voice of which Brautigam (2008) highlighted the way collective
actions leads to efficient tax bargaining with the state.