By Sharon Atieno

Despite governments spending a large amount on public procurement annually, at least 15% of gross domestic product (GDP), women-led businesses in Eastern Africa remain underrepresented in accessing these contracts.

This is according to a report by the Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC) titled Barriers and solutions to include women-led businesses in public procurement.

The report which covered five countries (Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Rwanda) found that only two of the countries had enabling legal environment for women to access public procurement- Kenya and Tanzania.

In Kenya, there is the Access to Government Procurement Opportunities(AGPO) initiative mandating all public procurement entities to set aside at least 30% of their procurement opportunities for enterprises owned by women, youth, and people living with disabilities (PWDs).

Though not implemented, Tanzania also has a legal framework that is meant to encourage women’s participation in public procurement.

Part of the country’s Public Procurement Act (PPA) and the PPA (Amendment) 2016 mandate procuring entities to grant an exclusive preference of 30% in their annual procurement of goods, works, and services, to special groups, identified as women, youth, and PWDs.

Additionally, the Guideline for Participation of Special Groups in Public Procurement breaks down the allocation to 10% to youth, 10% to people with disabilities, 5% to women, and 5% to the elderly.

Gilbert Sendugwa, the Executive Director of Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC)

Speaking to Science Africa, Gilbert Sendugwa, AFIC’s Executive Director said that addressing gaps in public procurement is essential to addressing equality. “Without addressing this gap, addressing equality is going to be a problem,” he emphasized.

In this regard, the organization has been having engagements with stakeholders from different countries covered in the report to address the barriers hindering women’s access to public procurement.

Through engagements with AFIC, Uganda has amended its procurement law to provide reservation schemes among special groups. However, it is yet to enforce guidelines to operationalize the law.

In Ethiopia, engagements with AFIC has resulted in the establishment of a joint committee comprising state actors, non-state actors, the private sector, and civil society organizations.

The joint committee’s work will focus on advocacy, policy dialogue, capacity building and monitoring progress in gender-responsive public procurement.

Also, the Ethiopian Government has been working with UN Women to revise the public procurement proclamation to develop a procurement law that would enable Ethiopia’s women-led businesses to compete and win more tenders contributing to their economic participation. A draft proclamation is expected to be ready in the course of 2023.

With Rwanda’s main legal framework on public procurement not explicitly mentioning gender,  AFIC is set to have similar engagements in the country to help address this challenge.

The work being done by AFIC is part of the Growth and Economic Opportunities for Women (GrOW)- East Africa program jointly funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and the International Development Research Centre (IDRC).

The East African program seeks to spur transformative change to advance gender equality in the field of work through support for innovative research and synthesis, capacity building and policy engagement.

It is supporting work on two broad themes. Among them is tackling continued labour market segregation and employment gender gaps including skills building and work readiness programs for women to increase entry, retention and advancement in under-represented sectors, and enhancing the effectiveness of government procurement programs in achieving women’s economic empowerment.

The other is reducing and redistributing women’s unpaid care work including scalable childcare provisions, changing norms and public perceptions about unpaid care work, and technologies that reduce and redistribute unpaid care work.