In the last article "Gender Equality, Women Rights and Energy - Part 1" we illustrated the importance of energy to promote women rights and gender equality, taking into consideration the gender dimension of energy poverty and the viability for women to take their roles in the decision making among their communities. In this article "Gender Equality, Women Rights and Energy - Part 2" we analyze briefly the political dimension of gender inequality and its issues in renewable energies, suggesting some actions to be done, in order to push the gender equality in the energy sector forward.
The political dimension of gender inequality in the energy sector:
International policy discussions regarding energy typically focus on economics, security, and the environment, leaving gender issues completely out of the conversation. But by working to improve global access to cleaner and efficient technologies while encouraging more women to take more active roles in shaping the world’s energy transition and related policies, we will be able to achieve a more sustainable future for everyone.(1)
There are a number of factors which influence the gender-blindness of energy policy. Two of the most significant are: women’s social position and the attitude of energy institutions to gender issues. These two factors are of course linked. Women’s control over their own lives is generally less than that of men; men tend to dominate decision making within households, in communities and organizations. Policy makers tend to be men and energy institutions and organizations both in the public and private sector, as well as civil society (such as NGOs dealing with energy) tend to be male dominated, particularly in the professional posts(Clancy et al., 2006). Similarly, the large-scale industries and agriculture, which are important energy customers for utilities, are also dominated by men in senior positions. This male dominated structure results in men talking to men about energy issues. As a consequence, the forums where the issues identified, agendas are set and any potential solutions proposed tend to have an inadvertent male bias. Although many economists and engineers would accept welfare and efficiency approaches to meeting women’s energy needs, they find meeting equality or empowerment goals through energy policy more difficult to accept. While many are not against gender equity, these professions often do not see the relevance of gender to their work (Christian Michelsen Institute, 1999). Some consider that “equality of the sexes is a matter of local culture and political concern” ((Skutsch, 1998): 947) while others consider that equality objectives cannot be reached through individual projects but through education and social movements.(2)
Gender issues in renewable energies:
- Renewable energy is an employment sector that is as male dominated as the conventional energy production industry. In contrast to the conventional energy market, no gender-disaggregated data is available for the renewable energy sector. In terms of gender relations, it can be assumed that the differences between the various types of energy production are not really that great: in most industrialized countries, the proportion of women in the energy sector amounts to about 20% of the workforce – although the number of women in management positions is less than 5%.
- Men and women perceive risk differently. This has been illustrated in issues like the use of nuclear energy. Women's greater awareness of risk is partly to do with their basic rejection of (purely) technological solutions, especially large-scale technologies, and has a lot to do with their preference for technologies that can be used in a decentralized system.
- Support for renewable energy is not restricted to political and economic decisions: it is also a factor in funding renewables expansion and in individual decisions on energy use. While no data is available on the numbers of women who invest in, say, wind farms, or on the actual amounts they invest, it can be assumed that their investment options are limited by their lesser financial freedom – on average, women's incomes in the European Union are 80 percent of men's. Operating companies often hinder women's investment because their preferred tax deduction models favor higher incomes. Women's lower incomes also narrow their choice in deciding whether to switch energy providers and use green electricity. Be that as it may, in surveys, women respondents demonstrate greater willingness to use electricity that is generated from renewable energy sources.
- With gender-specific role assignment so ingrained in society, educational materials and other information on renewable energy often address men – either consciously or subconsciously – in their preconceived role as the sole decision maker in technology-related issues. If women are to be better informed and have more freedom to make their own choices, promoters of renewable energy must consciously address women as a key target group.(3)
While much of the gender and energy discourse has focused on the South due to the acutely manifest importance of energy in women’s lives in the South, energy issues in richer countries also have important implications for gender relations, female political participation, and sustainable development. In both cases, the role of women in political life, community organizations, and families points to the important leadership opportunities that can bring about positive change created by using energy as an instrument to achieve multiple objectives linked to social justice, environmental protection, and economic empowerment.
There is a lot to be done to ensure the gender equality in the energy sector. In principle, the gender equity dimension must be better integrated into the energy policy debate. Gender analyses can widen perspectives and so put destructive production methods and resource-intensive consumer behavior back in the spotlight. In promoting renewable energy, policy measures and instruments must consider gender relations and take account of differing gender needs. This should include a mandatory Gender Impact Assessment, especially in cases where public funding is involved. In the short-term, it must be ensured that both women and men can participate equally in energy policy decisions and planning. For the longer term, they must be afforded equal opportunities to enjoy the positive outcomes in the jobs market. This can be served by targeted projects and campaigns. Funding instruments for environmentally sound energy production must be designed to take account of the differing situations and monetary options available to women and men, and neither give preference to nor discriminate against any one gender. Information on renewable energies and on green electricity must address the different target groups and take account of the different interests, areas of concern and levels of access when it comes to women and men. Targeted workshops are needed to assist capacity building for women and to sensitize people to gender related sub issues in the renewables sector. Overall, availability of gender-disaggregated data on renewables must be ensured. This means that research projects should collect and evaluate data in a gender differentiated way. It should also mean that, for example, industry associations that promote renewables and the renewables sector itself categorize data on their members and staffing structures according to gender and so contribute to alleviating the problem of data availability.(4)
While most international aid policies concerning gender have to do with global health and human rights, it’s time to add energy and sustainability into the mix.
1- Women and energy development can help the world's poorest women, Slate.
2- Gender Mainstreaming in the Energy Sector, Joy Clancy
3, 4- GENDER PERSPECTIVES IN INDUSTRIALISED COUNTRIES, LIFE e.V.