Renewable energy technologies — including hydro, solar, wind and geothermal — account for the energy market’s fastest growing sector. Global renewable energy employs 9.8 million people, an 11 percent increase from 2015. However, energy policy agendas are typically set by urban men and do not benefit from a wider, gender-responsive consultation process. Understanding women’s participation in the energy sector is central for unlocking its full potential.
A brief from USAID’s Advancing Gender in the Environment (AGENT) program, “Advancing Gender in the Environment: Making the Case for Gender Equality in Large-Scale Renewable Energy Infrastructure Development,” explains that large-scale renewable energy projects have an opportunity to deliver better development outcomes when they integrate women’s empowerment and gender equality strategies.
Impact assessments are essential for understanding how women and men can benefit from or be harmed by infrastructure projects. But oftentimes, during impact assessments, women are seldom or poorly involved in meaningful consultations. As a consequence, impacts on women’s livelihoods and well-being often go unidentified.
For example, when assessing property rights, stakeholders are asked to produce land titles as proof of ownership. Since women are estimated to hold titles to less than 20 percent of the world’s land, they face additional challenges in property ownership issues; the lack of formal documentation makes compensation for lost property more difficult for women. Compensation schemes that do not consider such impacts result in a wider gender gap and worsen the relative position of women in their communities. Large-scale renewable energy projects must therefore consider the barriers women face accessing alternative lands and assets or equivalent financial compensation.
In addition, compensation plans that include skill-development or retraining activities are often gender-blind and based on the identification of remunerated work. This practice unintentionally discriminates against women, who often need to balance child and home care with productive activities, often in the informal sector, making them less likely to be included in such retraining schemes or receiving monetary compensation for the loss of their livelihoods.
Advancing Gender Inclusivity
Despite challenges, numerous examples from around the world illustrate strategies for gender-responsive renewable energy infrastructure development. The LaGeo geothermal electricity generation company in El Salvador has worked toward creating a more gender-inclusive corporate workplace. The company has designed its human resources policies to ensure women are actively recruited and encouraged to participate in career-development opportunities. LaGeo sponsors a daycare facility for the children of its employees. Each year, the plants also temporarily hire more than 50 local women to support annual maintenance. These women undergo trainings in industrial safety and maintenance activities, skills and experiences that can be transferred to other sectors.
The African Development Bank’s Menengai Geothermal Development Project in Kenya completed a comprehensive gender assessment and then designed inclusive and gender-sensitive stakeholder engagement processes and monitoring and evaluation mechanisms. These efforts will promote direct and indirect employment opportunities for women and enhance women’s participation in traditionally male-dominated labor and physical tasks.
The AGENT brief offers many recommendations for various stakeholders to create gender-responsive projects. For example, policymakers should undertake comprehensive gender-responsive consultations with civil society and host communities before deciding on energy policies, especially on the type and scale of sources of energy to be promoted. Private sector companies should set targets for inclusion of women in all levels and fields in the workforce, including through the design of flexible working opportunities, mentoring and sponsorship programs, and professional development and training.
The public sector should ensure that private companies that implement the energy projects comply with the gender and social elements identified during assessment studies. Donors, multilateral cooperation mechanisms, and development banks should request evidence of effective participatory, gender-responsive consultation for the benefits assessment and mitigation measures. And civil society, including environmental and women’s organizations, should increase awareness and engage public opinion to ensure large-scale renewable energy projects are implemented in a manner respectful of gender equality and human rights.
Considering that the renewable energy sector is expected to grow exponentially in the coming decades, understanding how all people can best contribute their skills and benefit from these new labor opportunities will be critical to ensuring sector growth that does not exacerbate labor and income disparities between women and men, but rather serves the unique capacities and priorities of all.
To learn more about the AGENT project, click here.
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