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Inclusivity for a transitional energy industry

The twin crises of energy poverty and climate change continue to challenge Africa’s people, planet and prosperity agenda, disproportionately affecting women and girls in many respects. Women shoulder the greatest challenge for energy poverty.

From the dearth of clean cooking solutions, lack of reliable access to electricity to power critical medical infrastructure and provide refrigeration and storage for vaccines, medicines and other critical medical supplies, energy poverty continues to inflict unimaginable negative impacts on women.

Nigeria, D.R Congo, Uganda, Pakistan, Tanzania, Niger and Sudan are poised to account for 50 percent of the total global population without access to energy by 2030. Women constitute a great block of the 640 million Africans (60% of her population) lacking access to electricity. This is a huge challenge for Africa to accelerate action and put the right policy framework in place to attain a sustainable energy future.

But for the energy transition to be fair and just, it must include and empower the hardest hit by energy poverty and climate change – women and girls. The African energy industry can thus help improve the quality of life for women and unleash their potentials through the following targeted policy response:

Massive electrification:

There is a direct link between electrification and women empowerment. Reliable access to electricity to power households will be a remarkable game-changer for women by accelerating opportunities for them, enabling productivity and social mobility as well as increasing financial autonomy and social participation.

Electrification enables empowerment due to its direct link to education, employment and quality of life.

Expanding electricity access and integrating renewables in the energy mix will therefore deepen sustainable technologies that support high-power household appliances just as mainstreaming gender into the electrification process at all fronts will catalyse a just, inclusive and sustainable energy transition.

The goal of sustainable electricity access can therefore be seen as a major component of a broad-based development strategy for socio-economic development, gender inclusion and women empowerment. How then can we close the gap on energy poverty and provide universal access? Simple! Ramping up generation capacity, expanding the grid, enhancing distribution infrastructure and deploying off-grid solutions in unserved and underserved areas.

Read also: Global energy mix: Natural gas share to rise 27% by 2050

Clean cooking solutions:

Indoor air pollution is responsible for a staggering 3.8 million deaths every year (more deaths than malaria and HIV combined), most of which constitute women and children. 2.6 billion people making up about 1/3 of the world’s population lack access to clean technologies and fuels for cooking, thereby forcing women and girls to resort to wood, charcoal, dung and other traditional biomass fuels as cooking fuels, leading to significant exposure to indoor pollution and massive deforestation from felling trees to provide energy for cooking.

Deepening the penetration of LPG and accelerating action on clean cooking will help meet women’s energy needs, free up time for education, income generation and leisure. A clear ambition and effective deployment of scalable infrastructure is needed to provide affordable cooking solutions for the poor. Improved cookstoves and solar PV-powered pressure cookers, for example, could provide stand-alone, clean and cost-effective cooking solutions without necessarily burdening the grid. Regardless of the progress being made in electricity access, women’s peculiar energy needs must be identified and addressed.

The best way to do this is to include women in the energy policy formulation process, involve them in the design and rollout of clean cooking technologies and ensure that energy policy leaves no one behind.

Inclusivity and representation:

Women can be reliable agents of energy prosperity and yet traditional gender roles keep them greatly excluded at all levels of the energy industry. Even as the energy transition is predicted to create 30 million jobs by 2030, the inclusivity gap will likely widen even more as the subsectors projected to drive this job-creation such as electrical machinery equipment and construction are the ones with the least women representation. Significant progress has been recorded in the number of women with engineering and other STEM qualifications over the years, and yet this does not translate into wider representation at the industry level.

A 2020 study by BCG shows women to constitute only 22% of the global oil & gas workforce while a similar study in the same year by McKinsey reveals that women occupy less than 8% of technical oil & gas jobs and 9% of senior management roles in the energy industry of Africa and the Middle East.

Why does this abysmal inequality perpetuate? There are intrinsic inhibitors, in addition to deliberate traditional gender roles, that discriminate against women on the field and in the industry, in training opportunities, in compensation, etc.

How do we address this gap? Entrenched beliefs in the industry about gender stereotypes and women abilities need to be unlearnt. In addition to barriers to entry and onboarding in the energy industry, the industry must do more to recognise and address those blockades that prevent women from thriving. We have seen women break grounds across the energy portfolio as clean energy entrepreneurs, engaging in productive use of energy and leveraging traditional and renewable energy sources to foster economic growth. The industry must not be male-dominated. We must challenge unpopular gender roles, mainstream gender dimensions as a key to unlocking talent and accelerating a just and inclusive development.

The energy industry has come a long way. The need for resilient infrastructure for cooking, heating, cooling, transportation, agriculture, manufacturing and so on only necessitate the need to have the right policy framework for a robust energy industry in Africa. To be fit for purpose, energy policy and sector practices need to go beyond lip service and identify women’s energy needs, address those needs through tailor-made solutions and provide the platform for diversity and inclusion.

Jafar, an energy and projects lawyer, at Niger Delta Power Holding Company Limited

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