Skip Navigation

Overcoming Women’s Barriers to Participating in Entrepreneurship and Public Procurement in Africa

Venciendo barreras para la participación de las mujeres en el emprendimiento y las adquisiciones públicas de África

Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC) was a grant awardee in the latest round of research under the Feminist Open Government Initiative, a program led by Results for Development (R4D) and the Open Government Partnership (OGP) with support from Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC) that seeks to increase gender perspectives in open government. Read research from the latest cohort here.

Economically empowering women is an important avenue for boosting investments into families, communities, social development and national economic development. It is also an important way to contribute to gender equality. The number of women entrepreneurs in Africa ranked the highest in the world in 2019 and thereby holds unprecedented potential for such change. However, despite positive steps taken on international, regional and national levels to promote strategies for women’s economic empowerment and inclusion, evidence still suggests that women are being excluded from public procurement processes.


The government should create awareness on public procurement for women to be empowered with information about the process through town hall meetings, jingles, etc. in rural areas.

Judith, Malawi

For this reason, the Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC) and three of its members; Public and Private Development Centre (Nigeria); Article 19 (Kenya); and Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (Malawi) worked together to implement the Deepening Open Government through Women’s Participation in Public Contracting’ project through the Open Government Partnership’s (OGP) Feminist Open Government Initiative. The project assessed women’s access to contracting information and how it is used; women’s role in the co-creation of OGP action plans; and whether governments commit to their access to and participation in public contracting, to ultimately determine whether such commitments were implemented and to what extent.

The research project increased knowledge and awareness of OGP across the three countries and renewed interest among women in business to actively participate in public contracting and procurement. More women are now aware of their rights to involvement in public contracting and procurement and the community developed a shared understanding of the need to involve women in public procurement across key sectors. Women peers in women town hall meetings and other women groups held informal discussions that informed them on their rights and roles in public procurement. 

Women entrepreneurs in Nigeria gather after a workshop that was part of Africa Freedom of Information Centre’s (AFIC) Feminist Open Government Initiative research project.PHOTO: Credit: Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC)

Women face barriers, including sexual harassment and demand for sexual favors, logistical issues and challenges, bureaucratic tendencies in registration and licensing, delay in payment for services rendered, among others which call for concerted effort by all stakeholders to find lasting solutions to enable women thrive in public procurement.

Through a variety of workshops with women’s groups, government ministries, non-governmental organizations, and relevant business actors, we identified critical challenges to women’s effective participation in procurement. These included structural challenges, where patriarchal norms were reflected in institutional setups, preventing women from participating in decision-making bodies, such as Parliament, civil service and local government, and resulting in limited representation. Women’s participation was similarly challenged by educational gaps and religious prescriptions that prevent or dictate the role of women in particular economic decision-making. Women’s access to financial assistance, especially by women-led or owned businesses through male gatekeepers, added an economic aspect to the challenges faced by women. Furthermore, a general lack of knowledge of the legal framework surrounding public procurement was reported. Overall, women in the informal sector were generally more disadvantaged in their pursuit of effective participation in public procurement than those in the formal sector.


I didn’t know anything about OGP before but this workshop has made me know it. This is an achievement for me.

Regina, Malawi

Women also face various barriers to becoming entrepreneurs and acquiring benefits from public procurement given societal, patriarchal stereotypes that permeate both social and institutional life. We need to prioritise organising for collective advocacy for women’s participation and hold governments accountable to commit to ensuring women can compete in the arena of public procurement and contracting. The societal stereotypes and patriarchal systems deny them many opportunities to expand their business potential and participate in public procurement. Whereas some governments like Kenya have improvised with the legal and policy frameworks to provide reservation schemes for women’s participation in public procurement, the implementation still leaves a lot to be desired. Governments need to address the challenges faced by women if greater society is to reap the benefits of the unique potential for poverty alleviation, social and economic development, and gender equality that they hold.

Women in Malawi during a consultation meeting as part of the Africa Freedom of Information Centre’s (AFIC) research for the Feminist Open Government Initiative.PHOTO: Credit: Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC)

Project Impact Spotlight: Malawi


Lack of awareness and limited access to information on public contracting has hampered women participation in public contracting. Hence we would like for more initiatives to assist women to have a broader understanding of public contracting and this will help us to participate in public contracting.

Abigail Ngwira, Poulty farming business in Malawi

In Malawi, Since at least 2003, the government has taken a number of steps to improve the country’s public procurement system. Prior to 2003, there were no proper regulations guiding the public procurement system in the country. During this period, public procurement was characterized by delays in the procurement process, inefficient and maverick buying, poor business processes, lack of adequate organizational or individual capacities, poor documentation and general procurement mismanagement. This led to increased pressure on the government from the citizenry and development partners to sanitize the system by instituting a proper legal and regulatory procurement mechanism. A major milestone in this regard was the enactment of the Public Procurement Act (PPA) in 2003 as a guide for public procurement to achieve efficiency, transparency and value for money in public procurement. The PPA provided a new legal framework governing public procurement and provided for the establishment of the Office of the Directorate of Public Procurement (ODPP) with a mandate to act as an overseer of public procurement and ensure transparency, fairness, accountability and value for money in public procurement. 

Most women did not know about public contracting and this was a very good platform for them to know and understand the basics of public contracting, particularly women in the informal business sector. Some of the women expressed that the workshops have helped them to become aware of the public contracting process and this has given them confidence to consider a shift from the informal sector to the formal sector, so that they are able to participate in public contracting.


Top Recommendations for Government and Civil Society

The research includes a variety of recommendations for strengthening gendered approaches across open contracting. These include:

Central Government/ Public Procurement Authorities 

  • OGP African countries need to improve opportunities for women’s participation in public procurement by reserving a specific proportion of contracts for women owned/ run enterprises. 
  • Public procurement oversight authorities and procuring entities should publish gender desegregated data regarding companies participating in public contracting 
  • Train women owned/ led enterprises on procurement laws and procedures to improve their ability to compete for tenders 

Civil Society/NGOs 

  • Civil society research and advocacy groups need to campaign for governments to disclose gender disaggregated data on public contracting to allow for better insights and targeted advocacy. 
  • There is further need to focus on advocacy on policy and law reform to lobby for affirmative action to increase women’s participation in public contracting. One of the potential measures is the reservation of 30% of public procurement for women. 
  • There should be intentional efforts to help women enterprises understand procurement laws, regulations and procedures to increase their chances of winning tenders. 

Women Entrepreneurs 

  • Form lobby groups that can have a coordinated advocacy for reservation schemes of specific percentages/ quotas for the women participating in public procurement and discussing with policy makers on the required policy changes to enable their participation in public procurement. 
  • Should interest themselves in identifying information about bidding and any other public procurement process and use their right to access to information to generate all the necessary information in public procurement in the respective countries 
  • They should form cooperatives to enable them to gain collective capacity to access credit for expanding business and be able to participate in all forms of public procurement. 

Open Government Support Unit 

The Open Government Partnership has demonstrated great power in providing a platform for mobilising political commitment and linking resources to needs. In view of this lesson, the OGP Support Unit should: 

  • Scale up advocacy for governments to prioritise feminist open contracting in their respective action plans
  • In collaboration with relevant partners, support technical training of members on feminist open contracting 
  • Once feminist open contracting commitments have been made by OGP African countries, OGP Support Unit and partners should initiate support programmes to help them successfully implement respective commitments.


Featured Photo Credit: Omotayo Tajudeen

Comments (6)

Chris owalla Reply

How can we partner for the purposes of creating awareness at grassroot levels a long the lake region counties

Kabatwairwe Olive Reply

Very Insightful, as a Woman advancing transparency in public infrastructure delivery processes in Africa, Access to Information, capacity enhancement, affirmative action in procurement and platforms for engagement are key for the women agenda!

PROFESSOR DERMOT CAHILL, Director of Procurement Research Strategy, HelpUsTrade Reply

Training women about opportunities on its own is not enough. Making public procurement processes gender responsive is absolutely crucial. The entire tender process needs to be redesigned, it is based on an old model suited to the post-World War II world of construction, whereas now we are in a world of services, and current suites of tender documents are very unsuited to this kind of economy. For women led business, which are as the report notes, are typically smaller, having to engage with massive under documents is not a commercially viable proposition. Also tender evaluators need to redesign their approach to evaluation criteria to give smaller businesses a look-in. Reserving contracts for WLSMES, by itself, will not be sufficient.

Roger Segawa Reply

This a good initiative that calls for supporting and empowering women to start up and register their businesses. In Uganda, data on Women-Led Business (WLBs) is non-existent. As we encourage women to join support groups for financial literacy, collecting saving and credit access, we should on the other front continue to advocate for gender dis-aggregation of procurement data, and reservation of at least 30% of the contracts for WLBs.


A very good and educational article. Women should be given opportunities to develop themselves and the nation too.

Cengkuru Michael Reply

Superb analysis! Gender Responsive Procurement (GRP) is a relatively new idea whose adoption necessitates a coordinated effort by the government and vendors. An excellent beginning point is a clear distinction and explanation of a woman-led business.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Content

Thumbnail for Gender in OGP

Gender in OGP

Open government reformers are joining forces with gender and inclusion advocates across the Partnership to better recognize and respond to the lived realities of women, girls, and those across the…

Thumbnail for Feminist Open Government Research

Feminist Open Government Research

Explore findings from the latest round of research for the Feminist Open Government Initiative.

Thumbnail for Open Contracting and Public Procurement in OGP

Open Contracting and Public Procurement in OGP

Open contracting and transparency in public procurement have proven to save money and broaden competition. It is becoming a global norm in OGP, with over 70 members committing to reforms…

Open Government Partnership