In celebration of International Women’s Day 2018, a group of outstanding organisations working to empower women within the energy access sector are collaborating on a series of articles. We are sharing the stories of women’s empowerment from around the globe and in this fourth, and final, piece of our series we hear from Emma Colenbrander, Pollinate Energy cofounder and leader of the Energy Markets portfolio at Practical Action. Emma discusses the need for women’s meaningful participation in the global energy sector.
Over the past five years I’ve read and heard a lot about gender in energy access. The focus has been on the importance of including and empowering women in energy access value chains, particularly as consumers and as sales agents, and how this can be achieved in practice. Energia summarises the rationale for this neatly: when women have access to energy it contributes to poverty reduction; taking women into account in energy interventions means improved energy access and adoption; and having women in energy jobs improves energy supply chain effectiveness.
This is great - but there’s one big conversation we’re still not having, and that’s about women’s meaningful engagement and leadership in the global energy access sector.
Gloria Steinem once said that women get more radical with age, and this resonates strongly with me. As I get older and my career progresses I increasingly experience and witness biases against women. It’s well known that the mainstream energy sector struggles with an extreme gender imbalance. But I see first-hand that the energy access sector is similarly failing to engage and empower women as advocates, leaders and change-makers.
Energy access conferences are overwhelmingly male. I am consistently sitting through all-male panels (and no, sticking a female moderator on a panel with six men doesn’t count as gender diversity). Leadership in the sector is dominated by men, and this is particularly true of those organisations that hold the purse strings. This makes it hard for me to take conversations about gender in energy access projects seriously – after all, change has to start at home.
PEG Africa, a pay-as-you-go solar home system provider in West Africa, is setting a good example here. They have acknowledged the need to do more on gender, both from a fairness perspective and a business perspective, and are tackling this head on by piloting gender-inclusive business practices. They’ve set out a Gender Action Plan with five key objectives that include increasing the number of women in decision-making positions. This genuine commitment to change is inspiring, and something we can learn from.