Trends of discriminatory practices in the Consumer Market

A sterling caution to employers that use pregnancy as a tool of dismissal.

Date: 21 July 2023

By Tsietsi Shuping

Consumer rights and gender equality are both critical issues that are closely intertwined. Consumers have the right to fair and equal treatment, regardless of their gender. However, gender discrimination in the consumer market or marketplace is still a widespread phenomenon, which can lead to unequal treatment and limited access to goods and services.

The Consumer Protection Act 68 of 2008 (CPA) regulates the South African consumer market and aims to promote fair, accessible and sustainable marketplace for consumer products and services. Section 8 of the CPA prohibits the direct or indirect treatment of any person different from any other, in a manner that constitutes unfair discrimination on one or more grounds set out in section 9 of the Constitution of the Republic of South African, 108 of 1996.  

Despite the existence of the CPA and various prescripts protecting the right to equality, women continue to face discrimination when it comes to the purchasing of goods and services. For example, women may be charged more for products that are marketed towards them, such as beauty products or clothing. This is known as the “pink tax,” and it can cost women thousands of rands over their lifetime. This perpetuates the cycle of gender inequality.

Harassment in the consumer market is also a form of gender discrimination. Harassment can include inappropriate comments or advances made by salespersons, street vendors, or service providers, as well as the use of sexual images or innuendo in advertising or marketing materials. It can also include instances where consumers are subjected to unwanted sexual advances or behaviour by other consumers while on the premises of a business or of their homes.

Discrimination or sexual harassment in the consumer marketplace is unethical and can have serious legal ramifications. Businesses and entities have a responsibility to maintain a safe and respectful consumer environment for their customers and to take appropriate action to address the allegations of sexual harassment. Consumers who experience sexual harassment should report the behaviour to the relevant authorities.

Businesses can take initiatives to promote gender equality. This might include offering training to employees on unconscious bias, creating gender-neutral marketing campaigns, and ensuring that women have equal access to opportunities. In addition, businesses can partner with organizations that support women’s empowerment.

Ultimately, promoting gender equality in the consumer market is not just a matter of fairness, but also a matter of inclusivity, economic growth, and prosperity. When women can fully participate in the consumer market, everyone benefits. By promoting consumer rights and gender equality, businesses and stakeholders can create a more just and equitable society for all.


Tsietsi Shuping is a Legal Officer at the CGE