An examination of the barriers to gender-responsive public procurement in South Africa

Author: S Williams

ISSN: 1996-2193
Affiliations:LLB (Lagos) LLM (L.S.E) PhD (Nottingham), Professor, Department of Public Law, University of Stellenbosch
Source: Stellenbosch Law Review, Volume 34 Issue 3, 2023, p. 361 – 386


Women-owned businesses (“WOBs”) obtain less than 6% of public procurement contracts, despite accounting for close to 30% of registered businesses in South Africa. This contribution examines the reasons for the limited participation of WOBs in the public procurement system and finds that there are policy, legal, institutional and cultural barriers to the participation of WOBs in public procurement in South Africa. Policy barriers arise out of the misalignment between economic, gender and procurement policies and legal barriers arise from the previous limited and currently uncertain approach to preferential procurement legislation. However, the contribution finds that institutional, cultural and structural barriers pose even more of a risk to women’s participation in public procurement in South Africa. These institutional barriers include a reticence to prioritise WOBs by public agencies in the absence of an explicit mandate to do so, the reluctance to favour new market entrants to avoid contract failures and a culturally biased approach to WOBs by public agencies. Other barriers include the gendered impact of procurement corruption; the gendered impact of Covid-19, which terminated public contracts in sectors serviced by WOBs; and the complexity and opacity of the procurement process. The contribution finds that the historical lack of attention to women’s participation in procurement, and the lack of disaggregated data on preferential and gendered contracts, have made it difficult to understand the extent of women’s participation and the nature of required legal and policy interventions. This contribution assesses the barriers to the participation of WOBs in public procurement and makes recommendations aimed at addressing some of these barriers.