COVID-19 showed that women have been disproportionately affected by the economic and social fallout from the pandemic(OECD, 2020), as the pandemic exacerbated existing structural inequalities and gender norms (United Nations, 2020).
We know that public procurement can directly affect the quality of life and well-being of citizens through government procurement strategies, practices, and systems. Through gender-responsive public procurement policies and practices, governments and buyers can improve gender equality and encourage suppliers to improve their performance by using public procurement as an instrument to advance gender equality.
Last year, our Spend Network team put together the research report, Procuring Inequality, which explored the gender pay gap in public contracting in the UK. Our research was designed to identify the existing pay gap in the dynamic between public sector buyers and suppliers.
The OECD Public Governance has released a policy paper on the matter, Promoting gender equality through public procurement: Challenges and good practices, which looks at how governments and public buyers can use their purchasing power to promote gender equality and encourage suppliers to improve their performance on women’s empowerment. It explores the different ways that gender considerations can be integrated into public procurement policies and processes and discusses the challenges that both policymakers and procurement practitioners face in promoting gender equality through public procurement.
Key points of the paper include:
Using public procurement as a policy tool to promote gender equality requires public buyers to be open to finding innovative solutions and approaches. They must not only apply a gender-sensitive approach in their procurement decisions but also be able to deal with the multidimensional challenges of gender-based inequalities.
While public procurement can be used to promote gender equality, both policy-makers and practitioners should always first evaluate whether public procurement is the right tool to integrate gender-based considerations. Given that public procurement is now used to achieve a wide number of strategic outcomes, it is often hard for procurement practitioners to determine which specific outcome should be targeted in each procurement opportunity.
Greater investment should be made in the pre-tender phase of the public procurement cycle, to prepare the entire tender process and help ensure that longer-term benefits are achieved. Better management of the procurement cycle as a whole is crucial for gender-inclusive procurement.
Successful gender-responsive procurement requires involving and engaging different stakeholders as well as strengthening the capacity of the procurement workforce. Furthermore, it is important that potential bidders clearly understand the strategic priorities of both the national government and the individual public buyers, so that they can design their bids and adjust their business operations and practices accordingly.
While a number of countries have policies and regulations to stimulate gender-sensitive public procurement, there is still an implementation gap, amplified by a lack of knowledge and data, a lack of clear evaluation mechanisms, and a lack of understanding of gender-promotion practices.
Opportunities for improving coherence among different policy areas should be also explored. Procurement is unlikely to be the most innovative area in terms of gender mainstreaming and gender promotion, but it can have real impacts when a universal gender mainstreaming tool is applied to all policy areas.
Get in touch with us if you’d like to know more about our gender pay gap report, our procurement data, or our research capabilities.