Annually, African governments spend over 60% of national budget through public contracting while over 70% of Malawi Governments’ annual budget is spent through public procurement (Hivos report). Women-owned enterprises win less than 1% of contracts. However, over the last decade, governments and multilateral development organizations have increased programs that promote gender equality.
The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found that in 2017-2018, on average, 42% (USD 48.7 billion) of the official development help of its member states was focused on gender equality and women’s empowerment, compared to 37% in 2015-2016. These figures pale compared to the trillions of dollars spent by governments on the procurement of goods and services. The worldwide public procurement market is approximately one-fifth of the global gross domestic product (GDP).
Public procurement presents a tremendous opportunity to promote gender equality because governments engage at all levels of the procurement process and are, therefore, uniquely placed to promote gender equality and Women-Led Businesses in particular—through their selection and contracting of goods and services. Governments can leverage their roles as “market regulators” (via procurement policies) and as “market participants” (as purchasers of goods, works and services) in order to empower women-led businesses.
The opportunities available in government procurement can significantly empower women, raise their status in society and provide the resources to contribute more conspicuously to productivity and socio-economic development. The achievement of a country’s economic progress, both socio-economic and physical relies on proper management and adherence to regulations and good practice in the procurement functions, and women’s unimpeded participation in the economy.
The Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, also called the Maputo protocol (2003) specifically draws attention and commits state parties to ensuring equal access to business and economic opportunities for women in Africa (see Article 13). It also puts emphasis on protecting women’s economic and cultural rights. Indeed, open contracting is one of the fundamental ways to enhance accessibility of women and other disadvantaged groups to the opportunities for their socio-economic advancement.
Women’s economic empowerment is very important as it contributes to national economic growth and enhances achievement of internationally agreed-upon goals and development commitments according to UN Women. Economically empowered women contribute highly to an improved quality of life to men, women, families and communities. The Sub-Saharan Africa already boasts of the World’s highest rate of women entrepreneurs, at 27% according to the United Nations.
Given this surge in entrepreneurship, it is important that women take part in public procurement which accounts for nearly 65% of most governments’ GDPs. However, most of these entrepreneurships face a myriad of challenges that choke them and they cannot take off and be sustainable especially when governments don’t fully embrace open contracting and disclose public procurement information.
Barriers to Women Participation
The PPDA Act provides for transparency but it doesn’t go enough to require procuring entities to fully disclose essential information that would allow for women to access records across the entire contracting process. Access to Information Act hasn’t been actively implemented to help women in Malawi to understand how to access information on procurement opportunities. Women are particularly disadvantaged by language, lack of access to means of communication (internet, newspapers, radio, etc.) to access information on tender opportunities in practice
Absence of specific actions targeting of women e.g. reservation schemes and capacity building initiatives. Women lack key requirements such as required bid security, capital to effectively tender. However, we are yet to see data on the proportion of men and women-owned enterprises taking public contracts lack of desegregated data on women owned and led companies lack of awareness of procurement laws by women while there have not been enough effort to promote participation of women in informal sector and SMEs to graduate to take medium and large government contracts.
Since at least 2003, the government of Malawi has taken several steps to improve the country’s public procurement system. We therefore recommend that:
1. PPDA should publish procurement data in Open Contracting Data Standards format to enable increased access to information on tender opportunities
2. Government should urgently start and implement policies that enhance women’s participation in public contracting e.g. ring fencing certain contracts for women and requiring procuring entities to issue specific proportion of contracts for women
3. PPDA and government should start capacity building programmes to enable women understand available opportunities and how to apply for tender opportunities
4. Government should urgently require procuring entities to publish infrastructure projects on the Information Platform for Public Infrastructure (http://www.ippi.mw/)
5. Malawi Government should make a clear commitment on women’s participation in public contracting in the OGP National Action Plan