Energy Transition must be Gender Responsive.
A just and holistic energy transition can best happen when women have a greater say in planning and decision-making
Author: Suchitra Rautela Joshi
“We are still living with the results of millennia of patriarchy that excludes women and prevents their voices from being heard,” said UN SG Antonio Guterres, speaking at the sixty-sixth session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). Women occupy just 1/3rd of decision-making positions under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Kyoto Protocol and Paris Agreement on climate change, and only 15 per cent of environment ministers are women, he pointed out (United Nations, 2022). Around the world, just 1/3rd of the 192 national energy frameworks include gender considerations, and gender is rarely considered in climate financing.
Ending energy poverty while addressing the climate change commitments calls for improving energy efficiency and providing access to all, both of which require a transition to renewable energy. Men and women may participate in, and use energy differently, and policies need to find solutions to reach both.
Women as Users
Globally, of more than 1.6 billion people in low- and middle-income countries live below the poverty line, of which more than 50% are women. Restrictions imposed on their mobility, ownership of property, access to education and information, and limited say in decision-making, severely constrain their ability to deal with climate related calamities (Iyer, 2022). Women are estimated to be 10% of the people displaced by climate change. Their traditional role as caregivers and providers of food, water, and fuel exposes them to higher levels of stress and hazards when climate disruption occurs. The impact heightened during the COVID-19 pandemic when the burden of unpaid childcare and domestic work fell on women affecting them disproportionately (Kenny & Yang, 2021).
Today, globally, 759 million people – 1 out of 10 – still do not have access to electricity, and around 2.6 billion people lack access to clean fuel for cooking (SEforALL, n.d.). With unfettered energy access, the social, economic and health indicators of women are set to improve around the world, making a perceptible difference to their living conditions, and fast tracking their overall upliftment, particularly in developing economies.
Access to energy, primarily via renewables, means women are able to do house chores even after daylight resulting in increased productivity, children can study longer in the evening encouraging them to complete their education that opens more career opportunities, well-lit streets allow women to stay outdoors for longer pursuing income generating activities, women save about one-hour a day collecting firewood freeing up the equivalent of a workforce of 80 million people, reduce household air pollution avoiding premature deaths, and limit carbon emissions.
It is therefore critical to put women at the heart of environmental decision-making. Ensuring a just transition to a green, sustainable future requires gender‑responsive approaches to reorienting finance flows and economic models and investing in resilience and capacity-building.
Women as Contributors
When more women work, economies grow. Women workforce contributes about USD 16,915 to the world’s GDP per capita (WorldBank, 2020). According to a report, women controlled 32% of the world’s wealth in 2019 (BCG, 2020). They are adding USD 5 trillion to the global wealth pool each year that is expected to grow at 7.2%, thus expected to rise to USD 93 trillion (34% of world’s wealth) by 2023.
Yet globally, in 2019 and 2020, women lost more than 54 million jobs (4.2% women, and 3.0% men). Across 45 countries, one in five women reported losing their job during the COVID-19 pandemic (UN Women, 2021). Informal workers experienced a sharp drop in earnings, with women losing a greater share of their pre-pandemic earnings and recovering them more slowly than men.
In 2021, globally, ILO predicted gender gaps to remain slightly above pre-pandemic levels, with men’s employment to recover to 2019 levels, and still fewer women in employment (ILO, 2021). This is because of how economies and societies have been structured where women are treated as second-class workers.
Women have demonstrated exemplary leadership in times of crisis around the world, including dealing with the impact of COVID-19 around the world where the outcomes were systematically better in countries led by women (Garikipati & Kambhampati, 2020). Women were rated highly competent and effective leaders, before and during the pandemic (Zenger & Folkman, 2020). Experts believe having more women leaders in energy could help improve the effort to combat climate change and its worst effects. It is therefore imperative that women are integral to the climate action dialogue and take leadership role in the ongoing energy transition.
Women in Energy
Despite making up 48% of global labor force – women account for only 22% of the traditional energy sector (IEA, 2022), compared to which the renewable energy sector records up to 32% representation of women (IRENA, 2019). Still, even in renewables, women’s participation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) jobs is much lower at only 28%, as compared to 45% in administrative jobs. Women are listed in less than 11% of patent applications related to the energy sector (IRENA, 2019). This is when more women are getting higher education. During the academic year 2016-17, women obtained 57.3% of bachelor’s degrees, 59.4% master’s, and 53.3% PhDs (TeamStage, 2022).
The energy sector remains one of the least gender diverse sectors and closing this gender gap will be vital as women are key drivers of innovative and inclusive solutions.
Women can’t or don’t want to work in energy
For long it has been believed that women can’t, or don’t want to, handle physically demanding work or work under harsh environments such as mines or on pipelines. On the other hand, a 2018 survey of 1200 female professional working in the energy companies reported – ‘women across the energy sectors are peering over the ‘I can’t’ wall and demolishing unconscious biases around which job roles are politically correct’ (NES Global Talent, Energy Jobline, 2018).
So, it’s not about women can’t or don’t want to, but the fact is that women face persistent barriers to entry and advancement, which most men working in the same sector are unaware of. Women in energy continue to face challenges such as male-dominated environments, gender pay gap, lack of suitable roles, a lack of flexible working opportunities for women with family and children, and an absence of female leaders (NES Global Talent, Energy Jobline, 2018).
History is not a valid justification for gender imbalance, and the situation is gradually changing. Examples show that several energy companies have taken steps and continue to ramp-up efforts to recruit women, to make the workplace more hospitable for female employees and to foster their professional development, since the need is growing for competent workers, regardless of their gender (Feltus, 2008).
According to Nawal Al-Fuzai, Assistant Under Secretary for Economic Affairs in the Kuwaiti oil ministry, who was speaking at a World Petroleum Congress in Madrid – “as energy companies around the globe expand their efforts to recruit, retain and develop employees with a broader range of backgrounds, experiences and perspectives, more gender barriers will begin to fall”.
With the natural advantages the clean energy industry has going for it in terms of recruiting and attracting talent, a few more focused measures will go a long way in making female talent choose clean energy, and everything it has to offer, for their careers (eWiRE, 2019).
The issue of energy poverty, climate change, and environment disproportionately affect women and girls. However, women are also agents of change in addressing these challenges, and by making all policies gender-responsive and by ensuring their participation in the planning and decision-making, the agenda of women empowerment can be advanced to benefit families, societies, and ultimately the entire world. To promote gender equality alongside environmental sustainability, it is paramount that resources are spent in ways that benefit women and men equally and account for gender-specific risks and vulnerabilities.
There is a need to reimagine women’s livelihoods – their access to decent work, social protection, and sufficient nutritious food— requires a fundamental shift in how economies and societies have been structured. In the efforts to create a sustainable and just economy, women’s contributions need to be recognized, by protecting their right to work and rights at work, including ensuring workplaces are safe, healthy, and free from violence, in the informal as well as the formal economy.
The contributions of care work to economic development, social cohesion, and human capabilities should be recognized and factored into economic and social policymaking.
List of references
BCG. (2020). Managing the Next Decade of Women’s Wealth. Boston Consulting Group.
eWiRE. (2019). The role of women as drivers of change in the energy transition. ewire.
Feltus, A. (2008). 19th World Petroleum Congress. Women in Energy: Closing the Gender Gap. Madrid.
Garikipati, S., & Kambhampati, U. (2020). Leading the Fight Against the Pandemic: Does Gender ‘Really’ Matter? SSRN.
IEA. (2019). Africa Energy Outlook. IEA.
IEA. (2022). Energy and gender – A critical issue in energy sector, employment and energy access. Retrieved from IEA: https://www.iea.org/topics/energy-and-gender
ILO. (2021). An uneven and gender-unequal COVID-19 recovery: Update on gender and employment trends 2021. International Labour Organization (ILO).
IRENA. (2019). RENEWABLE ENERGY: A GENDER PERSPECTIVE. IRENA.
Iyer, S. (2022, March 09). OPINION: Time for women to be at the forefront of Energy Transition. Retrieved from Economic Times Energyworld : https://energy.economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/renewable/opinion-time-for-women-to-be-at-the-forefront-of-energy-transition/90102032
Kenny, C., & Yang, G. (2021, June 25). The Global Childcare Workload from School and Preschool Closures During the COVID-19 Pandemic. Retrieved from CGD – Centre for Global Development: https://www.cgdev.org/publication/global-childcare-workload-school-and-preschool-closures-during-covid-19-pandemic
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Author’s Short Bio
Suchitra is a hands-on working professional with a background and expertise in project and programme management, and a passion for the environment and social development. In her overall career of over twenty-four years, she has worked across sectors and countries as a management consultant, trainer, project manager, business leader, and built organizational capacities in the area of project and programme delivery. She has a graduate degree in literature and a post graduate qualification in Business Administration. She is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP®) and a certified Practitioner in PRINCE2®, MSP®, P3O®, and a Green Project Manager (GPM-b). She currently works independently and is mostly engaged with the United Nations Office of Project Services (UNOPS) as a Project Management Advisor and loves that her super miniscule participation is making the world a better place and contributing towards the achievement of SDGs. She is a candidate at the University for Peace (UPEACE) where she is pursuing her Master of Arts in Development Studies and Diplomacy.