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By: Jerromie S. Walters

In an effort to enhance gender-responsive procurement and women’s involvement in procurement processes, UN Women Liberia is conducting a two-day gender-responsive workshop for women in Liberia.

The initiative kicked off early Tuesday, May 9, 2023, at BlueCrest University College in Congo Town, Liberia, with the presence of a huge number of women who are set to become educated in public procurement.

UN Women Country Representative, Comfort Lamptey, in a remark at the beginning of the workshop, termed it an important opportunity to support the women’s empowerment agenda by facilitating access by women-owned businesses to information, technology, and tools that will position them well to bid for public procurement contracts in the future. It draws on existing data on women’s access to public procurement and the potential this sector presents for growth.

“According to the 2015 Global Women Entrepreneur Leaders Scorecard, public procurement accounts for more than 30 to 40% of GDP in developing countries and 10 to 15% of GDP in developed countries.” However, globally, only an estimated 1% of public procurement contracts are awarded to women-owned businesses,” she said.

Consequently, she acknowledged that governments are increasingly using public procurement as a tool to promote socio-economic objectives, including increased entrepreneurial activity by women-owned businesses.

Madam Lamptey noted that UN Women is very keen to make the most of the demonstrable goodwill on the part of the Liberian government to promote preferential procurement measures and additionally work with the government and private sector to strengthen existing services and support to ensure that women-led businesses are supported to achieve high and impactful growth.

She further articulated that UN Women has a track record of working on gender-responsive procurement, which is aligned with global policy discourse on the promotion of gender equality and women’s empowerment.

“As far back as 1995, the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (BPFA) underlined the need to support women’s economic empowerment through entrepreneurship.”

She continued, “The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) framework in Target 8.3 commits UN member states to ‘promoting development-oriented policies that support productive activities, decent job creation, entrepreneurship, creativity, and innovation, and encourage the formalization and growth of micro, small, and medium enterprises, including through access to financial services.”

Opportunities and challenges confronting women-owned businesses in accessing public procurement contracts

Women-owned and led businesses make up a growing share of all enterprises in many African countries. Public procurement represents an attractive market for women entrepreneurs since it accounts for 15 to 30 percent of GDP globally. In addition, procurement can sometimes consume as much as 50 percent of GNP in some countries. Public procurement, therefore, creates market opportunities that have long been recognized as an engine for growth for small and medium enterprises.

“Yet women-owned small and medium enterprises (WSME) are severely underrepresented as suppliers. In West Africa, women remain underrepresented as entrepreneurs accessing public procurement opportunities,” UN Women Country Representative Comfort Lamptey stated.

She further explained that “women entrepreneurs face significant structural barriers, which limit their growth and development. Women tend to have limited knowledge of existing procurement processes and policies and available support, as well as limited access to finance and capital.

Common barriers that women encounter to access public procurement include corruption, bribery, favoritism, and nepotism in government structures, including in the form of sexual harassment and gender-based violence”.

Additionally, she said, “Inconsistent implementation and different interpretation of preferential procurement policies by various institutions of the government is another challenge, as is the oftentimes limited access to information faced by women-owned businesses. Additionally, long delays in payment from government-procuring entities also discourage small, women-owned businesses from bidding.

The Liberian context

Results from a recent survey conducted by UN Women, UNOPS, and PPCC of 61 women-owned businesses showed that 30% of the respondents do not know where to find tenders, and 23% cited financial constraints as a hindrance.

Another 20% do not know how to submit bids using the e-tendering platforms, and 27% either fail to meet the technical requirements or lack the experience required.

According to the UN Women Boss, these findings point to the need to significantly invest to prepare and support women-owned businesses to access public procurement opportunities.

“I would like to thank you all for your commitment to this process, and I encourage all participants to seize the opportunity provided through this training to acquire the knowledge, skills, and tools required to overcome these barriers so as to bid successfully for public procurement contracts in the future. An important step is also to register on the government and United Nations platforms in order to have easy access to procurement opportunities,” she added.

In a special statement, the Gender Ministry representative at the occasion described it as one that is key to enhancing women’s capacities through entrepreneurship.

Among the significance of the initiative for women, he termed it one that has the propensity to heighten women’s economic dependence.

Sustaining women’s economic empowerment is cardinal to the ministry.

He admonished the women to make maximum use of the training and further assured them of the ministry’s commitment.

In a remark, Aaron Seh, a representative from WFP, said with the usual mindset of WFP only being involved with food, he said the institution presents huge business opportunities, which often affect women in Liberia.

As disclosed by him, between April and May, the WFP spent $USD231, 000 on locally produced food from small farmers who are mostly women.

He alluded to the fact that this is also among several other activities they do with women, including the provision of products.

According to him, the workshop is intended to enable women to be prepared for opportunities in the UN system. “We want to do business with you; the ball is now in your court, so make use of this opportunity “.

At the same time, PPCC’s representation at the event applauded UN Women for the initiative, as he believes public procurement is intrinsic to women.

He said Liberian women often don’t participate in procurement, and as such, the need for the training was considered significant.

Moreover, he admonished the participants to pay key attention to knowledge at the workshop to ensure that they are empowered to participate in the procurement process.

He thanked the women for showing up and assured the Public Procurement and Concession Commission of their dedication to the process, as procurement is important globally.


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