An Essay on Mainstreaming Gender in Energy Access: Why and how we do it

April 15, 2016 | By

Deconstructing Gender Mainstreaming in Energy Access – Part 1

The ECOWAS Programme on Gender Mainstreaming in Energy Access (ECOW-GEN) is capitalizing on ECREEE’s authority as a policy think tank to address gender inequalities through the development of innovative policy, regulatory and institutional reform instruments.

ECOW-GEN, therefore, brings a unique value to the energy-gender space, not repeating what has been done (or is being done) by predecessors.  Rather, its interventions are based on its own comparative advantage, reaching out to and convening national governments, responsible for energy development.

A concerted effort towards systematically addressing gender inequality may need to adopt such an approach – based on the organizations’ comparative advantage (avoiding duplication and competition) and sector specific (i.e. energy, agriculture, trade, health, etc.).  It is also useful to have a regional framework, providing the role of coordination, monitoring, and evaluation and strengthening. The article provides an account of the work being done to promote gender equality in West Africa, as it concerns the energy sector and provides justifications for the Programme’s strategy.

The context…

In West Africa, the female and male population is about equal, 50-50. The similarity, in terms of equality, does not stretch much farther from here when we consider how they both fare in the society. In most socio-economic indicators, women lag behind their male counterparts.

In 2015, the ECOWAS Center for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (ECREEE) published a report on ‘Situation Analysis of Energy and Gender Issues in ECOWAS Member States’[1] with the objective of establishing concrete basis for the formulation of the ECOWAS policy for Gender Mainstreaming in Energy Access. The report revealed that deep-seated social norms that have existed for years and have now become institutionalized with time, present issues for achieving gender equality in the region. According to the report, “Social norms continue to accord men and women varying degrees of status, responsibilities, access to resources and opportunities”. In West African communities, males on average have greater access to resources, and opportunities, than females. In some communities women’s right to ownership of land is impeded on the basis of cultural norms and traditions. The results are countries like Senegal and Mali where 90% and 95% of land titles, respectively, are held by men[2][3]. Because of the importance of land, as a key factor of production, gender inequality in land acquisition has contributed significantly to the economic disempowerment of women. Women’s position, in terms of having less access to land and other productive resources, places them at a disadvantage when it comes to equal bargaining power and decision-making at the household and community level.


Promoting Gender equality in the Energy Sector

The energy sector is not exempted from the issues of gender inequalities. In fact, in the sector, we see very strongly how socio-cultural norms create barriers to women’s access to resources and opportunities for self-determination.  Facts and evidences indicate that access to resources and control of resources have profound implications on who is the decision maker when it comes to paying for energy services and deciding what it is used for. And as a consequence of the unequal playing field open to men and women, we see that women suffer more as a result of the energy poverty in countries of the region[4].

Voice, representation and participation, on an equal basis, is important for development, which is inclusive and sustainable to occur. In the energy sector this is lacking, as we see that women’s presence in these three areas is minimal and the sector is a male dominated sector, particularly at the technical and managerial hierarchies in the formal job sectors.

For the energy sector in the ECOWAS region to achieve the ambitious goals it has set for itself[5] , the Member States acknowledge that closing the gender gap in the energy sector is necessary. And the ECOWAS Programme for Gender Mainstreaming in Energy Access (ECOW-GEN) is the vehicle through which this objective is being met.

ECOW-GEN has a mandate to steer Member States towards the direction on mainstreaming gender in policy formulation, legislative drafting, energy project and programme design and implementation, with the intention to promote equality in energy development through equal access to resources and equal contribution to the decision-making processes that shape and influence energy expansion in West Africa[6]. ECOW-GEN’s objectives are rooted in the understanding that breaking down negative social norms will require putting in place governing instruments (policies, law and regulations) that bring about new behaviors and practices, and respond directly to barriers and challenges in the categories of policy and regulation, technical, financial and awareness & capacity. ECOW-GEN therefore works through four strategic interventions: policy development, capacity building, awareness raising & advocacy, and business development & investment promotion. ECOW-GEN is capitalizing on the authority of ECREEE as a policy making body to initiate the development of gender-responsive energy policies and serve as the catalyst for the transformation of a predominately gender-blind energy sector.

With the aim to institutionalize the interventions being implemented through ECOW-GEN, the Programme produced a regional policy, as mentioned above. The Policy aims to address existing barriers that may hinder the equal participation of women and men in expanding energy access in West Africa [7].

Validated in June 2015 by the energy experts in the Energy Ministries in the 15 Member States, the Policy has as its strategic objectives to:

  1. Achieve widespread understanding of energy and gender considerations at all levels of society
  2. Ensure that all energy policies, programmes and initiatives are non-discriminatory, gender inclusive, gender-balanced and directed towards addressing energy poverty differentially affecting women and men in the region
  3. Increase women’s public sector participation in energy-related technical fields and decision making positions to a level of at least 25 per cent in the medium term and 50 per cent in the long term
  4. Ensure women and men have equal access to and opportunities to enter and succeed in energy related fields in the private sector
  5. Establish and maintain a comprehensive monitoring and accountability framework.

These objectives, their targets and strategies, overlap directly with three of core objectives for gender equality (OGE), as presented in the table below:

Strategic Objectives of the ECOWAS Policy Thematic areas of the AfHDR
Ensure that all energy policies, programmes and initiatives are non-discriminatory, gender inclusive, gender-balanced and directed towards addressing energy poverty differentially affecting women and men in the region. Enhancing women’s access to economic, social, environmental assets
Increase women’s public sector participation in energy-related technical fields and decision making positions. Promoting women’s participation in the workplace (formal jobs)
Ensure women and men have equal access to and opportunities to enter and succeed in energy related fields in the private sector. Growing women’s businesses and enterprises
Achieve widespread understanding of energy and gender considerations at all levels of society.
Establish and maintain a comprehensive monitoring and accountability framework


OGE 1: Enhancing women’s access to economic, social and environmental assets

The Policy objective that aims to “Ensure that all energy policies, programmes and initiatives are non-discriminatory, gender inclusive, gender-balanced and directed towards addressing energy poverty differentially affecting women and men in the region” uses energy interventions as an instrument to advance women’s economic empowerment and women’s agency. The objective mandates government authorities to create a platform, through consultation, where women’s voices and their needs influence the sort of projects that are implemented in their communities; and for this to be effectively achieved women need to be properly organized. Thus fostering the development/strengthening of women networks and associations.  It also requires that gender impact assessments are fed into the project’s preparatory activities and safe-guards are put in place.

These community projects may not directly address women’s lack of access to resources but they bring to the open what issues exist. It is essential to highlight the importance of narrowing down, on a community level and in a country-specific context, what the specific barriers and challenges are to women’s ownership of economic and environmental assets for there to be tailored interventions for addressing them.  And community projects could be very effective instruments for achieving that.


OGE 2: Promoting women’s participation in the workplace (formal jobs)

There are many facets to this issue, depending on what angle one may want to analyze it from. It could be argued that the lack of women’s participation in formal jobs has its roots in the low rate of girl child education, which is less than that of boys. And as they become young adults, the rate falls even further. In West Africa, at the primary school level, for every 100 male students there are 92 females, and at the tertiary level there are only about 52 female students for every 100 male students[8]; and there no strong argument to think that this decline does not continue into the job markets. The culprit: A household, especially one facing financial constraints, is more likely to educate its male child, particularly to the advanced degree. The common believe is that girls will become another person’s ‘property’ when they are married off and, therefore, whatever investment you make will be benefitted by her ‘new owner’ in the long run. But the boy who continues to carry on your name will always be a good investment choice in a financially constraint situation[9]. Therefore, girls are rather put into good use, where they contribute to the home maintenance and nurturing duties, thereby gaining the skills to become good wives. In the aforementioned Situation Analysis report, a household survey in Malawi showed that “school age girls are more burdened by resource collection tasks than boys, and that water and wood scarcity did lower school achievement”[10].

It is important to raise awareness of the need for parents to give their male and female children equal opportunities when it comes to education. Debunking the perception of female education being an unattractive investment will need a public education strategy that illuminates the contribution of female education to a household, community and country’s advancement; and should be a strong focus of every rural development programme.

On the other hand is the issue of career advancement for women who have been educated and have the qualifications to participate in the formal job sector, a strong focus of the ECOWAS Policy for Gender Mainstreaming in Energy Access. The Policy’s strategies are targeted at producing results that increase the entry rate of women in the technical/decision making domains of the energy sector, while reducing the exist rate. According to the Policy, “Gender targeted recruitment, internship and mentorship programmes could help achieve a representative balance of men and women over time and widen the candidate selection pool”.

OGE 3: Growing women’s businesses and enterprises

Lack of access to credit and banking facilities is a barrier faced predominately by women entrepreneurs. The Situation Analysis report supported the argument that women access finance less frequently than men-run establishments[11].  However merely increasing loan availability for women entrepreneurs may not be a solution for growing their businesses, sustainably. A study conducted in Ghana found that grants given as capital in-kind led to higher returns for female -owned enterprises and businesses, in particular[12]. The study claimed that “it helps entrepreneurs with a self-control problem keep the capital invested in the firm”[13].

While we support the idea of credit/financial facilities being made more available to women entrepreneurs, we would like to emphasize that such a result underscores the importance of equipping women entrepreneurs with valuable skills especially in the area of financial/business management. The regional policy notes that “supportive programmes will level the playing field for knowledge, skills and capital, overcoming historic gender disadvantages in the field of business. This includes expanded technical/vocational training and entrepreneurship/business management training in the energy sector targeted at women”[14].

Working in the premise that a good grant facility should provide both technical and financial support, under the framework of the Programme and the Policy, the ECOWAS Facility for Gender Mainstreaming in Energy Access (ECOW-GEN Facility) was established to provide technical and financial support to upscale the deployment of projects that simultaneously promote gender equality and improve energy access in the ECOWAS region. The Facility’s primary objective centers on promoting gender-responsive investments and business development by transforming women-led business ideas in energy into real, commercially viable enterprises. Thus the Facility works towards contributing to technology development and transfer; knowledge and skills acquisition; and establishment of sustainable energy businesses, with women at the center.

In Summary…

Social norms (culture and traditions of a people) are significant identities of a people and, in many ways, tell their story (of where they have been, how they relate with each other, their values, etc.). They illustrate how communities have jointly strived towards a common goal.

They, however, are wont to change, especially when a certain norm is no longer adequate to deliver a societal goal that has been collectively identified by all those concerned. Addressing gender inequality, and eliminating the negative social norms that drive them, is one of such societal goals, evident through the policies and treaties ECOWAS countries have aligned with. But adopting a new practice will require a framework to guide the change (policies, strategies, etc.), learning (through capacity building activities targeting policy makers, women entrepreneurs, etc.) and tailored interventions (grant facilities targeting women entrepreneurs, internship/mentorship targeting young female professionals, etc.), as delivered through the work of the ECOWAS Programme on Gender Mainstreaming in Energy Access (ECOW-GEN).

[1] ECREEE (2015) Situation Analysis of Energy and Gender Issues in ECOWAS Member States. Available at:

[2] Ibid

[3] Only five Member States grant legal protection to women’s land rights. Supra, note 1. P. 109

[4] More information – data and cases studies -is available in the Situation Analysis report.

[5] ECOWAS Member States are signatories to the UN sustainable energy for all initiative (SE4ALL) which, by 2030, aims to ensure universal energy access, double the share of renewable energy in the energy mix and double the rate of energy efficiency improvements in the countries of the region. Countries of the region are also parties to the UN Sustainable Development Goal and, therefore, will works towards achieving the energy-specific SDG – Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.

[6] ECOW-GEN programme document. Available at:

[7] In addition to that, the Programme is developing a regional regulation: ECOWAS Regulation for Gender Assessment in Energy Infrastructure Development, which contributes directly to the second strategic objective of the ECOWAS Policy for Gender Mainstreaming in Energy Access.

[8] ECOW-GEN Brochure. ‘Justification for ECOW-GEN’s Interventions in the region’. Available at

[9] This is a popular argument posed in West African communities, particularly in Nigeria where I come from. And still holds true till today.

[10] Supra, note 1. P. 48

[11] Supra, note 1. Noting that lower wealth status, income and educational level contributed to the inequalities, which translated to women not having the requisite collateral to access loans in the same way men-owned businesses do.

[12] Fatchamps et. al., (2013).Microenterprise Growth and the Flypaper Effect: Evidence from a Randomized Experiment in Ghana. Available at:

[13] Relating to factors behind the self-control the study covered: self-control issues caused by factors such as time-inconsistent preferences and high discount rates; and external pressure from others to share the additional capital.

[14] ECOW-GEN Policy

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