DUBAI – With data from the World Economic Forum 2021 reporting it will take 268 years to close the economic gender gap, Expo 2020 Dubai’s Outlier Series today (18 January) delved into Gender-Responsive Procurement as a transformative strategy to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The interactive forum at the Women’s Pavilion – in association with NAMA Women Advancement and United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) – shared good practices and insights with the private and public sectors on how to integrate within organisations, and how to connect women’s enterprises with more opportunities.

Hiba El Jardali, Programme Associate, UN Women, highlighted that aside from the projected time to close the economic gender gap, it will also take more than 136 years to close the gender gap worldwide, and 146 years to attain gender parity in politics. While new figures are still being worked on, currently only 1 per cent of procurement spend goes to women, with procurement making up 18 per cent of global GDP.

Hiba El Jardali said: “That is why we need more progress. Women empowerment and gender equality is not only a moral and social issue – it’s also an economic challenge. Societies are not able to tackle their full potential without having 50 per cent of it fully involved. If we close the gender gap – or even put more effort into closing it – we will add 12 trillion dollars to the world’s gross domestic product per annum.”

Maya Rmeity, Research Consultant on Women Entrepreneurs and Procurement in UAE at UN Women, underlined that the UAE, and companies within the UAE, have social responsibilities and commitments in place to provide for the community, with a lot of initiatives also focusing on sustainable sourcing.

Maya Rmeity said: “Empowering women in economy and closing gender gaps are key to achieve the SDGs, particularly Goal 5 on gender equality, and Goal 8 on promoting productive and decent work for all. In response to Target 8.3, ‘Promote development-oriented policies that support productive activities’, UN Women is implementing its flagship programme ‘Stimulating equal opportunities for women entrepreneurs’.

“Empowering women in the economy is key to achieving the sustainable development goals that the United Nations set out in 2015, especially the gender gap. Amongst the messages we are pushing is the promotion of innovation and entrepreneurship. Through this programme women will benefit from better market opportunities for business growth, as well enhanced access to financial support.”

Guests at the forum comprised procurement practitioners and representatives from leading UAE and global organisations, including Unilever, Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), Mars Wrigley, General Electric, Accenture (Digital Services Partner of Expo 2020 Dubai) and New York University Abu Dhabi. All agreed that to reach the desired target within gender responsive procurement, greater access to information and more transparency was needed.

Diana Saykali, MEA Strategic Sourcing Lead - Marketing, Sales & Distributor Services at Mars Wrigley, said: “A certification that businesses can access in terms of finding out if it’s a woman owned – or majority women-owned – would be helpful. It would be good to be able to identify and differentiate between the various suppliers that are approaching us. This type of information … is just not available to us right now.”

Aside from limited access to information, other barriers that need to be overcome include overly complex tender processes, disproportionate financial and quality requirements, market closures and creating a more gender-neutral dialogue – especially with regards to job postings and biddings processes.

While UN Women is in the process of building a database of women-owned businesses, which they aim to legalise and distribute, there is still a way to go, especially in light of a 2020 survey conducted in the UAE across 1,028 women-owned businesses. The results revealed that while 50 per cent of businesses in the UAE are women-led, 50 per cent of women-led businesses had never participated in a tender.

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