A major research study by APLU’s Prof Sope Williams-Elegbe on equity and inclusion of women-owned businesses in public procurement in South Africa has been published by the Open Contracting Partnership.
“South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa has committed to setting aside 40% of all government procurement for women-owned businesses (WOB). This report analyses the barriers and the opportunities for WOBs in the South African post-Covid-19 procurement system. In researching the report, we interviewed WOBs, procurement and supply chain managers, regulators, and other stakeholders, and we reviewed the main academic and policy literature on the inclusion of WOBs in public procurement in South Africa and beyond. The report also describes the legal and policy framework for preferential treatment in public procurement in South Africa, barriers to advocacy, and lessons from the Black Economic Empowerment framework, and it makes recommendations aimed at boosting WOBs’ participation in public procurement in South Africa.
The misalignment between South Africa’s economic, gender, and procurement policies and issues related to the focus on “black women” in the preferential procurement legislation is one of the policy and legal barriers. However, institutional and cultural barriers pose more of an obstacle to women’s participation in procurement. Public agencies are reticent to prioritise WOBs in the absence of an explicit mandate to do so and are reluctant to favour new market entrants and small, medium, and micro-enterprises (SMMEs).
Other barriers include the gendered impact of procurement corruption, the gendered impact of Covid-19, which has terminated public contracts in sectors serviced by WOBs, high rates of gender-based violence, and the complexity and opacity of the procurement process. In addition, WOBs in South Africa face financial limitations, inadequate contractor development initiatives, and an inability of the public sector to identify WOBs in relevant sectors.”
The report makes a number of key recommendations on enhancing woman-owned business’ participation in public procurement in South Africa:
- The South African government should create a comprehensive policy and regulations to implement gender-responsive procurement.
- The government should incorporate an inclusive definition of WOBs covering all women, in line with the International Organization for Standardization’s International Workshop Agreement definition.
- The government should implement measures to address transparency, complexity, capacity, and accessibility concerns.
- South African government entities should adopt a more integrated and long-term approach to the support and development of WOBs, including training for business owners and employees focused on “soft” skills, such as personal initiative training.
- South Africa needs an advocacy and awareness campaign to promote public understanding of the benefits of gender-inclusive procurement.
The report can be accessed on the Open Contracting Partnership website.