Is it truly a `Happy Women`s Day` in the Procurement World?

Gender-responsive procurement introduces a gender lens into the intricate world of procurement, a process that lies at the nexus of a complex network involving policies, legal frameworks, business relationships, and market forces that crisscross the global economy. With government procurement representing an annual market of over US $12 trillion worldwide, the potential impact of integrating gender considerations into this vast market is monumental. When considering procurement activities in the private sector, the significance magnifies even further. Procurement’s unique position, connecting an array of businesses, governments, and organizations, means the norms and institutions governing these transactions have the power to shape relationships not only between buyers and suppliers but also among consumers and workers across the globe. This underscores the transformative potential of gender-responsive procurement practices to reshape economic interactions, promote gender equality, and contribute to more equitable and inclusive economic growth.

Yet, despite its transformative potential, gender discrimination and inequality remain deeply ingrained in nearly all procurement systems, whether public or private. Women and their businesses do not secure an equal share of procurement contracts, nor do they represent an equal number of professional buyers and supply chain managers. The road to entrepreneurship and business development for women is fraught with entrenched discrimination and structural inequality, impeding their ability to compete on cost and scale with their larger, often male-owned and led, counterparts. Moreover, procurement processes are frequently misconceived as being gender-neutral. The critical questions regarding the gender impact of procurement decisions—what is being procured, from whom, and how—are not consistently and systematically addressed by procurement organizations. This oversight perpetuates a cycle of inequality, underscoring the need for a more deliberate and systematic approach to incorporating gender responsiveness within procurement practices globally.

India’s tryst with Gender Responsive Procurement

In recent years, India has made commendable strides towards gender equality and women’s empowerment, embedding these principles within its economic frameworks and corporate governance. Two groundbreaking initiatives, the “Womaniya” Government e-Marketplace and the mandate for women’s representation on corporate boards, exemplify India’s commitment to integrating women into the economic fabric of the nation. These efforts not only aim to empower women but also to foster inclusive and sustainable economic growth, aligning with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 5: “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.”

Empowering Women Entrepreneurs through “Womaniya”

Launched in January 2019, the “Womaniya” Government e-Marketplace stands as a testament to India’s resolve to champion women entrepreneurs. This initiative facilitates women entrepreneurs and women’s self-help groups in selling a plethora of products — ranging from handicrafts and handloom to organic spices and home decor — directly to government ministries, departments, and institutions. “Womaniya” is more than a marketplace; it’s a catalyst for hyper-local economic opportunities, intentionally designed to thrust women entrepreneurs into the forefront of the economy.

What sets “Womaniya” apart is its focused approach to not just promote women’s entrepreneurship but to also ensure their products find a direct market within the government’s procurement ecosystem. This initiative underscores a targeted effort to translate gender-responsive procurement into tangible opportunities for women, fostering an ecosystem where women’s economic participation is not just encouraged but prioritized.

Bridging the Corporate Gender Gap

Parallelly, significant amendments in corporate governance reflect India’s endeavor to enhance women’s representation in leadership roles. The mandate that companies listed on Indian stock exchanges must have at least one woman director, with the top 1,000 listed entities requiring at least one ‘independent’ woman director, marks a pivotal shift towards gender inclusivity at the highest echelons of corporate India.

Further solidifying this commitment, the Securities and Exchange Board of India’s introduction of the Business Responsibility and Sustainability Report (BRSR) compels listed companies to disclose their efforts in promoting gender diversity. This includes details on the gender ratio of their board of directors, key management personnel, employees, and other workers. Such disclosures are not mere formalities but a reflective measure of the business community’s role in fostering a more inclusive and equitable society.

The Private Sector’s Role in Gender-Responsive Procurement

The private sector, too, has not remained a bystander in this transformative journey. Giants like Procter & Gamble and Walmart India have set benchmarks by establishing procurement quotas for women-owned businesses. These measures, coupled with capacity-building training, mentoring, and technical support, are vital steps towards creating a more inclusive supply chain that benefits from the diverse perspectives women bring to the table.

While these initiatives represent significant progress, the journey towards gender-responsive procurement and corporate governance in India is ongoing. The true measure of these efforts lies in their execution and the tangible impact they have on women’s economic empowerment. It’s essential to build on this momentum, ensuring that gender-responsive procurement and corporate inclusivity move from policy to practice, thereby creating a more equitable and sustainable economic landscape.

Recommedations to make a deeper impact

Most countries have yet to make significant changes to their procurement systems to promote gender equality. However, there are opportunities for improvement, and several countries are in a good position to adopt and expand gender-responsive procurement practices. The following recommendations are applicable to countries at various stages in this process:

  • Reduce Gender Gap in Procurement Access – Take measures specifically designed to increase sourcing from women’s enterprises. Implement stronger gender-responsive procurement measures, such as quotas and targets, particularly effective when supported by constitutional recognition of gender equality.
  • Support Gender-Responsive Businesses – Encourage sourcing from both women’s enterprises and gender-responsive businesses that prioritize gender equality in their policies and practices. Establish gender equality standards, mandatory reporting requirements, and certification programs to identify and promote these businesses.
  • Capacity Development for Enterprises – Invest in developing the capacity of women’s enterprises and gender-responsive businesses to enhance their competitiveness. Provide support for skill development and capacity-building, fostering partnerships with government and other stakeholders.
  • Mandatory Reporting for Gender Equality Metrics – Strengthen mandatory reporting of gender equality metrics to monitor the impact of business policies on gender equality. Ensure a balanced set of indicators is included to provide comprehensive data, ideally accessible through a publicly available database.
  • Engage Diverse Stakeholders – Involve a diverse range of stakeholders, including women entrepreneurs, workers, consumers, civil society organizations, and business associations, in the development and implementation of gender-responsive procurement policies.Prioritize the recognition and prioritization of the needs of minority businesses facing various forms of discrimination.
  • Take a Gender Perspective in Procurement Decisions – Extend the gender perspective beyond suppliers to what is being procured. Integrate gender-responsive budgeting with procurement decisions to address the broader impact on buyers, suppliers, workers, and consumers.

In addition to these recommendations, it is crucial to recognize two key lessons. First, mandatory requirements should complement engagement with the private sector. While policy advocacy is essential for embedding gender equality in national laws, strategies, and plans governing procurement, encouraging voluntary progress in integrating gender considerations into procurement systems is equally important. Second, engaging women’s and workers’ organizations is vital for successful gender-responsive procurement efforts. Practical tools, including a centralized platform for identification and monitoring, are essential to connect businesses meeting gender equality standards with purchasing organizations, facilitating coordination among entities monitoring gender-responsive corporate behavior. A comprehensive approach, combining mandatory requirements with private sector engagement, will be instrumental in scaling up the impact of gender-responsive procurement globally.

In this endeavor, governments around the globe are employing a myriad of strategies to weave gender equality considerations into their procurement systems, supported by international frameworks that advocate for gender-responsive procurement practices. These strategies encompass a broad spectrum, including but not limited to, setting exclusion grounds, formulating selection and award criteria, implementing tie-breaker provisions, imposing contract performance conditions, establishing quotas, offering certifications, creating evaluation programmes, providing financing and grant-making, applying tax incentives, developing standards, and enforcing reporting and disclosure regimes. India’s initiatives, such as the “Womaniya” Government e-Marketplace and the inclusion of women on corporate boards, serve as exemplars of how diverse and innovative approaches can effectively promote gender equality in procurement and beyond. As we look to the future, it is imperative that these efforts are not only continued but also expanded, leveraging the full range of strategies available to ensure that gender-responsive procurement becomes a standard practice globally, driving forward the agenda of gender equality and women’s empowerment in the economic sphere.

Ebook Download Graph

Get Your Free Ebook on Procurement & Supply Chain Insights 2021.

Stay ahead of industry trends in 2021. Read how Indian manufacturing is going to become more self-reliant from the industry leaders and much more.

[contact-form-7 404 "Not Found"]