Procurement is one of the biggest opportunities for socioeconomic transformation. Chatham House statistics show that procurement budgets account for a fifth of the global gross domestic product (GDP).
That offers a glimpse into the magnitude of government spending with procurement receiving the biggest allocation, at 70 per cent in most countries. That presents citizens with a big opportunity to do business with governments.
Public procurement has emerged as a pioneering frontier for provision of jobs and opportunities, especially for women and other marginalised groups at most risk of exclusion from social and economic growth.
Cities such as Amsterdam deliberately use public procurement to boost young people’s economic empowerment. The Kenyan government, too, has set aside 30 per cent of its procurement contracts to empower women, persons with disability and the youth.
But beyond these significant steps — which, sadly, largely exist on paper — equality through gender-responsive public procurement continues to be a pipe dream in ensuring equal economic opportunities. Also, women’s enterprises have faced considerable barriers in accessing procurement tenders and contracts.
Research commissioned by Hivos East Africa in 2018 revealed that the impact of Kenya’s Access to Government Procurement Opportunities (AGPO) affirmative action scheme was far from being met due to inefficiency of its implementation and lack of available sufficient data.
While considerable investment has gone into sensitising women to be more proactive in bidding for government contracts and tenders, far much needs to be done to make this initiative produce the desired impact.
Challenges such as lack of capacity to finance a tender pose limitations to women’s enterprises. Women-owned-and-led enterprises that have won tenders are mostly urban, locking out rural women, the majority.
Besides, defaulted loans are common due to gross delay in payments from government procuring entities. Contracting information advertised by governments is often too complex and technical, leaving little room for broad participation in bidding. Worse, bigger contracts for infrastructure are largely not accessible to women enterprises.
Public procurement is highly male-dominated, affecting women’s participation in decision-making. A look at the structure of procurement and budget-making panels in public institutions is an indication of such systemic exclusion of women.
Kenya is a member of the Open Government Partnership and was just lauded at the recently convened OGP Global Summit in Ottawa, Canada, for implementing a robust national action plan to enhance a culture of openness, transparency and responsive governance that addresses the critical needs of citizens. But that can only bear fruit with intentional ‘open government’ across the board empower women.
Sustainable Development Goal 5, gender equality and empowering women and girls, is critical to achieving all the other SDGs seeking to alleviate poverty and hunger and provide access to healthcare for all. Women’s economic empowerment is a significant pillar.
A World Economic Forum report champions this by stating that gender equality and a country’s level of competitiveness affects its ranking in the global Human Index.
Kenya has done well, with measures to empower women through a macroeconomic initiative while many countries focus on microeconomic initiatives. It is critical, however, to get it right.
The government’s national leverage is a powerful channel and opportunity to increase gender equality to close the various gender gaps that prevent women from harnessing opportunities in the public procurement market. How can this power be translated to implementation reforms to enable women take charge of their livelihoods and contribute to the economy?
Transparency and proactive disclosure of information is also a key factor that could additionally support the efficient, participatory and accountable implementation of the AGPO initiative.
Open contracting, a new frontier in enabling disclosure at all stages of public procurement, can be advanced as a tool for empowering women’s initiatives.
A study in Albania revealed that contracts awarded to women-owned-and-led enterprises fared better and provided larger savings to the government than others.
The return on investment in economically empowering women through public procurement is healthy homes and society as women reinvest in the family and community, complementing development objectives.
Ms Akinyi is the communications manager, Hivos East Africa. [email protected]