Over the years, East Africa has been seen to make great strides to close the gender gap in terms of economic growth, leadership and in the political sphere. However, gender equality still plays a major role in impeding the growth and well-being of women across East Africa.
According to the USAID gender fact sheet, Kenya scored 80.6 out of 100 on the Women, Business and the Law 2021 index. It also ranked 95 out of 156 countries in the Global Gender Gap Report 2021. Rwanda is another example of an East African country that stands out globally for its efforts in advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment, particularly in political participation.
Barriers to women’s economic empowerment are much more persistent and complex than is often assumed, and solutions are not linear. Gendered social norms and hierarchies limit women’s opportunities and market access, in turn hindering their ability to reach their full potential.
The Growth and Economic Opportunities for Women Initiative (GrOW), was created in 2013 by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and Canada’s IDRC. The GrOW initiative seeks to spur transformative change to advance gender equality in the world of work in East Africa.
In 2021, four Strathmore University Faculty members; Prof. Ruth Kiraka, Dr. Hellen Otieno, Dr. Freshia Mugo and Dr. Bernadette Wanjala, received a grant from the International Development and Research Center, Canada, to undertake research for the Growth and Economic Opportunities for Women (GrOW)- East Africa Program.
The Strathmore University team focused on government procurement with a focus on the Access to Government Procurement Opportunities (AGPO), a program by the Kenyan government to facilitate youth, women and persons with disabilities owned enterprises to be able to participate in government procurement and access 30 percent of the government procurement opportunities. The AGPO program is founded on the Constitution of Kenya, 2010 Article 227 on the fair, equitable, transparent and cost-effective public procurement of goods and services, Article 55 on affirmative action and, the Public Procurement and Asset Disposal Act, 2015.
The implementing partners for this project are; the Kenya State Department of Gender, the Public Procurement Regulatory Authority, and the Kenya National Treasury.
The objectives of the GrOW Project by the Strathmore University team were:
- To assess the effectiveness of AGPO in enhancing women’s participation and empowerment in public procurement.
- To assess the barriers in access to opportunities in public procurement.
- To formulate interventions to promote access to procurement activities for women.
- To determine the integration of the interventions into current and future public procurement programmes and can be scaled up
Earlier this year, the project team held a stakeholders’ forum, which was aimed to present the findings that stemmed from a baseline study on Enhancing the Effectiveness of Government Procurement Programs in Achieving Women’s Economic Empowerment. This study was conducted with women from across 25 counties in Kenya. A total of 1590 women were interviewed throughout the study.
The participants of the forum included business women from across 25 counties, financial institutions, Kenya Revenue Authority and the Public Procurement Regulation Authority (PPRA).
From the study, we found that more women needed to be educated more on how to access AGPO and its benefits. Many of the women surveyed said they were not aware that AGPO exists while those who know about it and may be interested did not know how to go about it. Those who were aware and had visited Huduma Centers to get help noted that they were often met with a cold shoulder and sometimes told that there was nobody available to assist them in getting the certificate.
The women also noted that Huduma Centers are also just available in large towns in Kenya. This makes it hard for a woman in the village to travel all the way to the nearest town just for the service. The ladies recommended that these centers should also be placed in villages so that all women could get easy access to the services provided by the government.
It was also discovered that village women are intimidated by tax and that is why they are reluctant to get an AGPO certificate. They have no clear understanding of how to file for taxes correctly and are afraid that the government could punish them for a mistake they were not aware that they are making. The ladies recommended that groups that contain women like women’s church groups or Chamas (an informal cooperative society that is normally used to pool and invest savings by people in East Africa, and particularly Kenya) can be utilized to teach more women how to navigate payment of taxes.
However, AGPO also has had a life-changing effect on women who have applied for it. Fifty-four percent of the women who took part in the study said that their assets had increased since they received their certificate. Twenty-three percent of the women were able to acquire a higher income due to the ease of getting tenders with the AGPO certificate. Lastly, 48 percent of the women claimed that they were awarded tenders that they applied for due to the AGPO certificate.
The event ended with words of encouragement from Prof. Ruth Kiraka “AGPO is for everyone. It has been put in place to benefit all women of Kenya, therefore we must take advantage of the opportunity”. Given that systems have been put in place to help women increase their businesses, participating actively will enable more women to be financially stable and as a result lift the living standards of many people in the country.
Article by Juliet Hinga and Sally Akoth
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