On June 5, 2015, the 15 countries of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), represented by the energy ministries, adopted the first-ever regional policy on gender-responsive energy development.
Described as ‘revolutionary’ by the ECOWAS Commissioner for Energy, Dr. Morlaye Bangura, the goal of the ECOWAS Policy for Gender Mainstreaming in Energy Access is to address existing barriers that may hinder the equal participation of women and men in expanding energy access in West Africa.
The ECOWAS Policy for Gender Mainstreaming in Energy Access is an innovation from West Africa, marking the first time that these two cross-cutting, essential factors for sustainable development, gender equality and energy access, are being combined. Together, they will create a single policy that promotes social, economic and environmental sustainability through energy interventions that take into consideration the dynamics of gender roles, differences and preferences in energy use and production processes. The product of the policy will take the form of tailored energy interventions whose benefits are equitably shared and felt by both the male and female population.
The policy pushes the limits of gender in the energy space, as it recognizes that gender equality plays a key role in driving and ensuring a sustainable energy future.
The rationale and objectives of the policy
Energy issues have been on the front burner of ECOWAS development plans and strategies in a bid to tackle the level of energy poverty in the region. Countries in the region have some of the lowest rates of modern energy consumption. With the exception of countries such as Cabo Verde, which has a 94% electrification rate, electricity access is quite low even in the more economically advanced Member States. In most of the countries, reliance on traditional biomass for cooking is quite high, ranging from 80–90% of the national population. At the regional level, over half of the 335 million habitants do not have access to modern energy services. Per capita electricity consumption in the ECOWAS region is averaged at 88kWh (as at 2005) compared to 13,246kWh in the US1. Energy poverty is more severe in the rural areas, where a larger part of the region’s population reside.
Energy services are essential to improving conditions for economic growth and development. The lack of access to modern energy services has taken its toll on the health and stability of the region’s economy, with 11 out of the 15 Member States being classified as Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPICs). Moreover, the low-income statuses of these countries further increases their vulnerability to the impacts of climate change as public investments into clean energy technologies and strategies for climate change mitigation and adaptation add to the already challenging investment situation.
The ECOWAS region, recognizing how an effective enabling environment could pull in much-needed investment from both domestic and foreign sources for transformation of the energy sector, has taken significant strides to establish a conducive policy and legal and regulatory frameworks at the regional and national levels.
In 2006, ECOWAS governments adopted the ECOWAS White Paper for access to energy services to “Increase access to energy services for populations in rural and peri-urban areas in order to achieve the Millennium Development Goals”. This also led to the establishment of the ECOWAS Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (ECREEE), a specialized agency mandated to support the development of markets for sustainable energy infrastructures in the region. In 2013, the ECOWAS Heads of State adopted the ECOWAS Renewable Energy Policy (EREP) and the ECOWAS Energy Efficiency Policy (EEEP).
These “twin clean energy policies” are aligned with the objectives of the Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) initiative and aim to contribute to the global objectives of: ensuring universal access to modern energy services; doubling the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency; and doubling the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix.
The EREP aims to ensure universal energy access in rural areas and sets targets for increasing the overall share of renewable energy, achieving rural electrification, adopting cleaner cooking options and utilizing solar thermal for hot water. The EEEP aims to improve efficiency in the cooking, lighting, buildings and electricity distribution market segments and outlines ambitious targets to reduce energy use and increase productivity to help ECOWAS achieve its goals for energy security and access
ECOWAS, having implemented these commendable initiatives, did not stop there, but has gone farther than any Regional Economic Community (REC) by developing a gender-responsive policy to guide and direct the processes of improving energy access and ensuring energy security. But why did ECOWAS decide to develop a Policy that no other REC to date has embarked upon?
ECOWAS recognizes the need to pursue development that is socially, environmentally and economically forward-looking, and acknowledges the need to face squarely the fact that gender inequality exists. It also acknowledges that conditions that result in men and women not having equal access to opportunities, rights, resources and a voice in the society is an actual problem, posing real consequences for achieving universal energy access, as well as inclusive and sustainable development.
It is against this background that the Member States are, through the Policy, making a strong case that women and men should be empowered to work collaboratively as co-participants in improving energy access. Countries must harness and utilize, to the fullest potential possible, their human capital; mobilize investment and accelerate the establishment of energy businesses by both female and male entrepreneurs; and encourage inclusive dialogue to ensure that no one is left behind in the region’s development process.
The Policy was developed by ECREEE and the ECOWAS Department of Social Affairs and Gender, with funding from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), and additional support from the Austrian Development Cooperation (ADC), the Spanish Agency for International Development and Cooperation (AECID), the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and the African Development Bank (AfDB).
The workshop to launch the project on developing the ECOWAS Policy for Gender Mainstreaming in Energy Access was held at the AfDB headquarters, the African Hub for the SE4ALL initiative, which represents an indication of the significance of the Policy to the continent’s long-term energy and development goals.
The scope for the regional Policy was decided at this workshop, and was attended by AfDB’s Vice-President for Infrastructure, Private Sector and Regional Integration, the AfDB Special Envoy on Gender, the ECOWAS Commissioner for Social Affairs and Gender, the Executive Director of ECREEE, representatives from the respective Ministries of Energy of the ECOWAS Member States, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), and others.
With universal energy access by 2030 as its goal, the specific objectives of the Policy are to:
1. Achieve widespread understanding of energy and gender considerations at all levels of society;
2. Ensure that all energy policies, programmes and initiatives, including large energy infrastructures and investments, are non-discriminatory, gender-inclusive, gender-balanced and directed towards addressing inequalities differentially affecting men and women in the region;
3. Increase women’s public sector participation in energy-related technical fields and decision-making positions;
4. Ensure that women and men have equal opportunities to enter and succeed in energy-related fields in the private sector
1. Achieve widespread understanding of energy and gender considerations at all levels of society;
• 100% of energy sector government employees will have received some relevant training by 2020 (and routinely thereafter);
• 50% of citizens will be exposed to some form of relevant public service announcement by 2020, growing to 90% by 2030;
• At least 50 new scientific articles about gender and energy in West Africa published in peer-reviewed scientific journals by 2020, and 20 per year after that.
• 2. Ensure that all energy policies, programmes and initiatives, including large energy infrastructures and investments, are non-discriminatory, gender-inclusive, gender-balanced and directed towards addressing inequalities differentially affecting men and women in the region
• 50% of energy policies by 2020 and 100% by 2030 will be gender-sensitive;
• 50% of energy projects, programmes and initiatives with government participation will include gender dimensions in planning, implementation, analysis and evaluation by 2020, rising to 100% in 2030.
3. Increase women’s public sector participation in energy-related technical fields and decision-making positions • At least 25% women in the public sector energy workforce by 2020 and an equal (50-50) gender balance by 2030.
4. Ensure that women and men have equal opportunities to enter and succeed in energy-related fields in the private sector • At least 25% women participation in energy-related fields in the private sector by 2020 and an equal (50-50) gender balance by 2030, as determined through statistically rigorous random sampling.
The ECOWAS Policy’s contribution to the region’s sustainable development
By opening up the energy sector for women to make both business-wise and intellectual contributions, the ECOWAS Policy for Gender Mainstreaming in Energy Access thus contributes to:
• Economic growth and development: The energy sector is a job provider. For a region with high rates of unemployment, the right incentives and strategies that eliminate barriers for women as well as men are necessary to open up job opportunities in the region’s resource-abundant energy sector. Thus, we should see the Policy serving as the catalyst for energy jobs and businesses to be created for and by women (thereby increasing employment) and, by so doing, accelerating energy production and provision of energy services for income-generating activities and welfare improvement and ultimately reducing poverty at the national and regional level.
• Social inclusion, promoting a gender-balanced workforce that capitalizes on women’s unique abilities and qualities to make valuable contributions to the development of the energy sector. Women have been excluded from the energy scene, at the technical and decision-making arena, mainly due to the lack of appropriate education and technical skills. The energy sector workforce is male-dominated, and so are the university graduates from Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields. The energy sector, given its primary role in promoting sustainable development, should not be a vehicle for gender inequalities. Education and training for women in STEM fields; specific pre-career pathways created at educational institutions, energy ministries and other public sector agencies; and creating incentives (monetary and programmatic) to increase the number of women pursuing energy-related careers, are all ways to break the cycle of male dominance within the sector.
• Environmental sustainability and transition to a low-carbon development pathway are vital contributions of the Policy. Markets are essential for the development of renewable energy resources and deployment of sustainable energy technologies. The region is well endowed with these resources, and the demand for sustainable energy is in abundance (considering the large proportion of the population that does not have an energy service), but unfortunately, supply is not sufficient to meet demand. The Policy works to increase output from the supply side (increasing workforce and investment), and making the markets for sustainable energy more effective and efficient. Moreover, the economic empowerment of women and the community should lead to an increased use of clean energy technologies, and less reliance on traditional biomass, which has, until now, contributed gravely to environmental degradation.