Ifeoma Malo*, Odion Ibadin* and Petke Mangni*
Energy poverty is identified as limited access and reliability to energy consumption. Worldwide, about 1.2 billion people are without access to electricity, and around 3 billion lack access to modern cooking and heating solutions. Energy access, gender equality and gender justice are strongly interlinked. However, the links between energy access and gender depend on local circumstances. In some cases, perceived barriers to gender equity result from gaps in opportunities for income generation and a lack of financial freedom. Lack of energy often limits productive endeavors, job creation and business development. It also limits access to health and education and creates considerable gaps in energy access.
Benefits of Empowering Women
In developing countries, the lack of access to energy is a huge challenge to women and girls’ well-being and economic opportunities, as it affects their living conditions and time-use. The challenge of energy poverty involves inadequate availability, access and reliability of energy. This affects wellbeing and limits opportunities for education. The limited opportunities for education and remunerated labor arises partly as a result of time consumed from gathering biomass fuel. Women, especially in rural areas, spend a large part of their time collecting fuel wood. Dangerous work deriving from accessing energy resources is linked to gender-based violence due to the vulnerability associated with obtaining fuelwood far off from homes. The impact on schooling and educational outcomes limits future income generation for women. Women are also disproportionately affected by indoor air pollution.
According to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), affordable and clean energy is paramount in ensuring a sustainable economy. There is therefore a need to improve energy efficiency and expand the shares of renewable energy in total energy supply. Programs that boost household energy access, modernize cookstoves, install public lighting and electrify public health centers can help women and men improve their quality of life and enjoy better access to income-generating opportunities.
Women can play a central role in the transition to clean energy as consumers, producers and workers. As consumers, they can help to shift energy consumption. For example, women may play an important role in the clean cooking sub-sector whose growth depends on the adoption of the technology by women for household and commercial use. Similarly, in the productive use of energy (PUE) sub-sector, women are positioned to drive adoption of technologies like cold storage facilities, solar dryers etc.
How Women can Lead
As producers, women can lead transformational change in the energy industry. However, there are large gender gaps in skills and human capital in many parts of Africa. Therefore, the relatively low technological-intensity and low start-up capital needed to startup businesses in several renewable energy sub-sectors provides opportunities for women to capture a larger share of the production market in clean cooking, e-mobility, Solar Home System (SHS), mini-grids, etc., than the incumbent male-dominated non-renewable energy counterparts (ICE automotive industry, timber, power utilities etc.).
Achieving greater gender diversity in company boards and senior management positions could help to accelerate the green transition, as it would allow for a more effective integration of environmental and gender goals. This applies to both the renewable energy sector and the fossil fuel energy sector which is currently trying to invest and reinvent itself into the sustainable energy sector. Donors and investors could also include the degree of female presence in senior management and board positions as factors when considering where to direct financing.
Women’s empowerment and leadership in the energy sector could help in ensuring a JUST TRANSITION to a low-carbon economy with equitable opportunities for both men and women. Women can also lead in the transformational change in the energy industry which is largely male-dominated.
Possible Initiatives to Address Issues
Global employment in wind energy grew slightly to 1.25 million jobs in 2020, from 1.17 million in 2019. IRENA’s gender survey indicates that women hold only around a fifth of these jobs. Donors, governments, and implementing partners need to mainstream gender in energy sector frameworks, including integrating women’s experiences, capacities, expertise and preferences in energy policies and programmes, gender audits, and integrating women along the off-grid renewable energy value chain. Such value chain integration requires measures such as, tailoring training and skills development programmes, including raising awareness of career opportunities, adapting curricula, making technical training programmes more versatile, and strengthening mentoring and outreach. These efforts should be matched with significant investment in training and scholarships to encourage more women to pursue Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) disciplines at all levels of education, and provide support via mentorship, knowledge-sharing and skills development.
Organizations also need to attract and retain female talent, including through parental leave and flexible work hours, equal wages, child care support and equal opportunities for professional advancement.
Another key area of action is to challenge cultural and social norms. This includes strengthening the visibility of diverse women’s roles in energy, and supporting projects that enable women to become agents of change through their participation in the renewable energy sector. This also includes encouraging equal sharing of unpaid household work by allowing men and women to apply their skills in decision-making in the household and society.
Clean Technology Hub contributes in this area through a number of initiatives, programmes and projects. One of such initiatives is the training for women in rural and informal sectors in activities like clean cooking, briquette making and solar installation. This not only helps more women become aware of clean technologies, but also provides them with the business and financial literacy skills to be successful producers, distributors, installation technicians and participants in the value chain. Internally, women are also adequately represented in CTH’s workforce and senior management. The goal is to empower women, demonstrate to industry peers the feasibility and benefits of doing so, and secure the place of women in Nigeria’s energy transition.
In conclusion, besides the role of gender equity in ensuring a just energy transition and transition to net-zero, women are valuable contributors to the energy sector as producers, workers and consumers. Their integration would contribute to addressing gendered problems like indoor air pollution and gender based violence; it would speed up the energy transition and the growth of the green economy; and it would contribute to sustainable development. Governments, donors, civil society, companies and other stakeholders therefore need to pay greater attention to integrating women in projects, programmes, talent management and resource allocation decisions and initiatives if gender justice is to be achieved through empowerment.
Ifeoma Malo is Founder and CEO — Clean Technology Hub
Odion Ibadin is Technical Assistant — CEO’s office at Clean Technology Hub
Petke Mangni is Junior Associate, Human Resources at Clean Technology Hub