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The Quarterly e-Newsletter of the Gender Network December 2010 | Vol. 4 No.

4
ember 2010 | Vol. 4 No. 4

Going beyond the meter: Gender mainstreaming in energy


projects
By Reihana Mohideen, ADB Gender Consultant, South Asia Regional Department

In most developing countries, it is poor women who continue to provide the “human
energy” for food production, water and energy transport and cooking. They bear much of the
burden of limited access to clean and modern energy services. Therefore, access to affordable
energy services is of critical concern to poor women. This is so, notwithstanding that
historically, women have been invisible in the energy sector and energy infrastructure, and
services are often incorrectly considered to be gender neutral.

Admittedly there is greater awareness today of the latent gender


benefits of clean energy access by expanding distribution and increasing
the numbers of electrified households. Access to energy can reduce the
time spent by women on household chores, giving women greater
opportunities for income generation and livelihood activities. However,
women‟s ability to tap into these opportunities is limited due to gender
inequalities in access to productive assets such as land and natural
resources as well as labor-saving technologies and affordable credit.
While the energy sector can potentially provide employment
opportunities for women, it is still dominated by men. Persistent gender
inequalities in secondary and higher education and gender stereotypes in
the labor market restrict opportunities for women to access the necessary
technical training. Gender discrimination in recruitment practices also
influences the sector, resulting in further sex-segregation of the labor force.

If energy projects can take into account such gender imbalances and biases and
simultaneously address the specific energy needs of women, then even modest improvements in
energy services can contribute to significant improvements in poor women‟s lives and gender
equality. However, to achieve this, it is necessary to “go beyond the meter”, that is to provide
special interventions targeted at promoting women‟s empowerment and narrowing gender
inequalities. Such an approach will optimize the social and gender benefits of energy projects
and consequently contribute to enhanced effectiveness and efficiency of investments.

To go beyond the meter it is necessary to challenge the prevailing myths that gender
mainstreaming in energy investments is not possible. In ADB, since 2009, we are increasingly
seeing energy projects approved with gender mainstreaming being integrated across subsectors,
such as renewable energy, rural electrification, and energy efficiency. The willingness of project
team leaders and country counterparts to engage with social and gender considerations, and the
allocation of necessary gender specialist resources for project preparation, design, and
subsequent implementation have been key factors shaping the effectiveness of gender
mainstreaming in the energy sector.

While renewable energy and rural electrification projects are in general more conducive
to gender mainstreaming than large-scale power generation or high voltage transmission
projects, even these „hard‟ sub-sectors offer opportunities for minimizing gender-related social
risks, such as non-compliance with labor standards for civil works and other project-related
contracts and vulnerability to STI, HIV/AIDS and possibly human trafficking. There is also
increasing evidence of energy utilities undertaking corporate social responsibility (CSR)
programs to enhance their corporate profiles, through anti-poverty, social and community
development activities. CSR programs can provide important entry points for gender
interventions in the sector, if promoted and supported by the ADB.

Existing practices point to the following possible entry points to mainstream gender for
consideration during project design:

Improving energy access and affordability for the poor,


especially female headed households;
Employment opportunities for women through the provision
of technical training;
Women‟s entrepreneurship based on energy-related
technologies, including women‟s involvement as service
providers;
Introducing labor-saving technology for women based on
availed energy services;
Gender-sensitive user education programs on the safe use of
energy and energy technologies and energy efficiency and
conservation at the household level; and
Enabling sector policy and institutional set-up for affordable tariff structures, improved
service delivery, and inter-linking with national gender equality policy and programs to
build gender awareness amongst policy makers.

ADB‟s attempts to mainstream gender in energy projects has just started. While some
useful initiatives have already been undertaken, more needs to be done in scaling them up,
demonstrating what works, and raising awareness among the sector specialists and government
decision makers on the need for gender-responsive energy services and opportunities.