By Sharon Atieno

With the sustainable development goal (SDG)number five calling for gender equality and women empowerment, Kenya’s affirmative action law on public procurement dubbed the Access to Government Procurement Opportunities (AGPO) Act is proving effective in achieving this.

This is according to the findings of a project report dubbed Enhancing the effectiveness of government procurement programs in achieving women’s economic empowerment by Strathmore University under the Growth and Economic Opportunities for Women (GrOW)- East Africa project.

The law which came to existence in 2013 requires all public procuring entities to reserve at least 30% of procurement opportunities for vulnerable groups including women, youths and people living with disabilities (PWDs).

Presenting the report at the inaugural AGPO conference convened by Strathmore University in Nairobi, Prof. Ruth Kiraka, GrOW Project lead noted that AGPO empowered women economically (changes in income, assets and business growth), socially (improvement in social status, power relations, networks , reduced domestic violence, right to start and operate a business, and engage in paid work), institutionally (having a voice in the community) and agency (the ability to act and effect change in spheres that are important to the individual such as knowledge, skills and resources).

Prof. Ruth Kiraka, GrOW Project lead- Strathmore University

The research covered over 1,900 women entrepreneurs across 25 counties with high AGPO registered firms. The women were divided into three categories including those that have successfully applied for AGPO tenders, those that applied for AGPO but unsuccessful and those that have never applied for AGPO registration, but are eligible.

The report also found that older women entrepreneurs registered for AGPO compared to the younger ones.

It also noted that more educated women entrepreneurs registered for AGPO compared to the less educated ( with basic education).

Further, a higher proportion of those who registered for AGPO owned their business premises compared to those who were not registered.

Notably, a lower proportion of those who registered for AGPO were sole proprietors compared to those who were not registered.

The report also showed that more women entrepreneurs who had a family member running a business won an AGPO tender compared to those that did not have a business member running a business.

The women-owned businesses that received the AGPO tender had been in operation longer than those that were not awarded a tender.

In contrast, the proportion of women entrepreneurs who were actively running their businesses was also significantly higher among those who were not awarded the AGPO tender, according to the report.

Prof. Kiraka noted that significant challenges remain in improving women’s access to public procurement opportunities under the Act. Lack of awareness, delayed payment and corruption top the list.

Others include: Skewed process (evaluation criteria favours large companies, contract values are too large for small entreprises and over-emphasis in supplier selection), complexity (the AGPO registration platform difficult to navigate, many documents required while on tendering, too much paperwork, complex technical requirements, very long tender documents) and non-compliance with the law).

Eric Korir, Director Public Procurement, Ministry of Treasury

Eric Korir, Director Public Procurement, Ministry of Treasury observed that opposed to the other groups, women-led businesses had received a significant portion of contracts under AGPO.

He noted that of the more than shs. 200 billion worth of public procurement contracts given, women had received shs. 105 billion compared to shs. 85 billion and about shs. 10 billion by youths and PWDs respectively.

According to Korir, despite several challenges facing access to public procurement by women, more women-led businesses are being registered under the program. In the last ten years, 94, 000 plus of them have been registered.

Themed Enhancing women’s economic empowerment through procurement, the AGPO conference brought together different stakeholders including women entrepreneurs, state and non-state actors as well as the private sector.

The conference sought to promote buy-in and commitment to the implementation of recommendations both in practice and policy by various private and public sector organizations and a platform for advocating for inclusive supply chain strategies, trends, insights, and technology (e-procurement).