The potential to transform Africa's economies and speed up development in the coming decade lies in lighting and powering the continent. But, more importantly, and often overlooked, is that this potential also lies in efforts to integrate women into energy projects.
The energy sector is one that has historically been male-dominated. From all sectors of the workforce, more so at the executive level, to the trajectories of transmission, distribution and redistribution, the sector disadvantages women. This requires challenging.
Indeed, the slogan for this year's International Women's Day (IWD2021), "Choose to Challenge", is based on the premise that a challenged world is an alert world, where individuals are cognisant of their thoughts, decisions and actions. We must go beyond discussion. We need to use the tools available to us and effectively integrate gender into energy planning, execution and monitoring.
Attracting female talents to the sector is key to ensuring a successful, speedy and just energy transition. In addition to financing energy projects in the continent, the African Development Bank (AfDB) is actively developing tools to help achieve this goal.
These include the recent "Gender and Energy Country Briefs", which it published in partnership with Climate Investment Funds (CIF) and the International Network on Gender and Sustainable Energy (Energia).
The briefs, which cover Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania, provide tailored recommendations on how to set up holistic and programmatic approaches for catalysing women's economic empowerment in the energy sector. They are part of AfDB's push for increased production of gender-disaggregated data and knowledge products to adequately address gender gaps in Africa.
Why work at the energy and gender nexus?
Energy is tied to every development area: Agriculture, manufacturing, education, social and health infrastructure and security. Yet in all these, women are severely disadvantaged.
Little up-to-date data
International networks on the gender and energy nexus report that female-headed households are less likely to have access to energy than those headed by males.
Although data in East Africa provide indications of gender inequalities, they hardly give the depth of evidence needed to develop clear policies and targets to inform energy interventions. For example, there is little up-to-date data on sector employment and the differential impacts of energy access and use on women and men. There's also a dearth of data on women's participation in the energy value chain as entrepreneurs or employees, or as users of energy, and women-led businesses as suppliers of energy.
In the slowest-growing East African country, the available data is the percentage of households or population with access to a specific type of energy for lighting or cooking. Official data is relatively scarce and seldom updated. In the fastest-growing ones, like Rwanda or Kenya, though there is no specific legislation for the production of gender statistics, data on gender and energy is still scarce.
Through its "Gender and Energy Country Brief for Kenya", the AfDB is providing the missing data to help the country advance towards a clean energy agenda. That aims to raise awareness on the bottlenecks preventing women from fully engaging in the energy value chain. It also highlights the need for national stakeholders to define the parameters for policies and programmes and track the progress on gender issues in the sector.
East Africa holds immense potential in generating clean energy through wind, solar and hydropower, benefiting millions. It is important that a gender lens is applied through the energy value chain to ensure that these projects benefit women and men equally. This starts with reliable gender-disaggregated data to make decisions with a direct and effective impact to achieve desired results.
The time for action to support African women is long past; we can no longer wait.