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Fostering gender-responsive public procurement: understanding the barriers and solutions to include women-led businesses in East Africa

Government procurement is the biggest public market in the world, with many governments spending roughly 15% of GDP on goods, works, and services annually. It is at the front line of the wider governmental response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Used strategically, public procurement can contribute significantly to building a more resilient and sustainable economy and society. As such, it can be a game-changer in tackling labour market segregation and gender gaps in employment if public procurement policies and practices actively seek the inclusion of women-led businesses.

In East Africa, some governments have enacted preferential procurement practices to address the low participation of women-led businesses by setting up enterprise funds and putting quota systems in place. While the experiences and policy innovations vary across countries, a common assessment is that these measures are not working as anticipated and that additional measures are needed, particularly in light of the added challenges brought on by the pandemic. However, there is limited evidence on the pathways through which government procurement programs can provide entry for women into sectors where they are underrepresented.

This project aims to fill this evidence gap and foster evidence-based reforms in procurement policies and practices across five East African countries (Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda) to enhance the extent and quality of women’s participation. It will examine the barriers women-led businesses face in accessing public procurement opportunities, the effectiveness of emerging practices to improve participation of women-led businesses, and the policy reforms and program design modifications needed to improve the current situation.

It is supported under the Growth and Economic Opportunities for Women (GrOW) East Africa initiative, jointly funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and IDRC. GrOW East Africa seeks to spur transformative change to advance gender equality in the world of work.

Project ID
Project Status
24 months
IDRC Officer
Annet Abenakyo Mulema
Total Funding
CA$ 583,700.00
Institution Country
Africa Freedom of Information Centre

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