Bridging gender disparities will be key to energy sector transition and post-Covid socioeconomic recovery

The transition to sustainable energy has been at the forefront of energy policy in many countries in the recent years. This process has become ever more important in the crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and with a strong rebound of GHG emissions in 2021 after some reduction in 2020 when the global economic activity had a downturn. Though women are at the forefront in the fight against COVID-19, they also bear the maximum brunt in the economic crisis and widespread loss of jobs. They are affected by developments in the energy area both as consumers and producers. They may also drive the needed change in transition to sustainable energy.

Gender disparities in the energy sector have been observed around the world. Women are less represented in policymaking, corporate leadership and governance, as entrepreneurs and venture capitalists, and in the labour workforce. In relation to employment, the energy sector is the least gender diverse. Studies have identified several possible reasons why women tend not to participate in the energy sector. These include women’s own perceptions of the industry, insufficient access to information, finance, and training, corporate human resources practices, and cultural biases and norms about gender roles. These barriers are surmountable using a two-way complementary approach, which is simultaneously bottom-up – action by women and society to bridge the gap of gender inequality in the energy sector – and top-down – government and policymakers need to develop policy tools to encourage women’s participation in the energy sector.

UNECE’s study “Energy transition and post-Covid-19 socio-economic recovery: role of women and impact on them” presents priority actions that countries and companies can take to encourage the participation of women in the energy sector to drive a sustainable socioeconomic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. Several national case studies provide analysis of the situation at the national level and concrete actions that government can undertake to close the gap in gender disparity in the energy sector while achieving benefits not only for women but to the economy and society overall.

In Albania, women own or manage approximately 29% of companies, mostly small and medium enterprises (SMEs), often family businesses and farms in low value-added sectors. Creation of mechanisms to support women entrepreneurs in developing the renewable energy sector in support of the post-COVID-19 economic recovery is recommended along with facilitating women’s access to training and information regarding property ownership and inheritance rights and procedures. In Belarus, despite substantial encouragement given to women to obtain college education, traditional views on the role of women are still common in society and the role of women in the labour market is often underestimated. Addressing these perceptions can enhance the contribution women can make in the COVID-19 economic recovery. Narrowing the existing wage gap could encourage higher participation of women in the energy sector, which can help drive economic growth with the energy transition. Women represent close to 20 percent of the workforce in the energy sector in Ukraine. Current curricula and structure of higher education is tied to the requirements of the old economy, rather than the future one. Incentive-based programmes to encourage more women to study energy-related subjects and opportunities for corporate placements after graduation can be an attractive proposition for students. In addition, to the extent possible, companies should endeavour to implement programmes to promote better work-life balance, with more flexible schedules and telecommuting options.

Equal gender participation can help society leap to a future of technological advancement in the energy sector and make the transition to a sustainable energy system a reality.

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