On 5 June 2015, the fifteen (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.
The ECOWAS Policy for Gender Mainstreaming in Energy Access is an innovation from West Africa as it is the first time that these two cross-cutting, essential factors for sustainable development, gender equality and energy access, are being combined to 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 which are 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. The level of energy poverty in the region is the clear reason for why.
Countries in the region have some of the lowest rates of modern energy consumption. Except for a country like Cabo Verde with 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 88 kWh (as at 2005) compared to 13,246 kWh in the U.S. Energy poverty is more severe in the rural areas, where a larger part of the region’s population reside.
With energy services being important inputs and 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, 11 out of the 15 Member States are 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.
It is against this background that the Member States are making a strong case, through the Policy, that women and men should be empowered to work collaboratively as co-participants in improving energy access – if countries are to 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; encourage inclusive dialogue to ensure that no one is left out or behind in the region’s development process.
Its 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 contributes to the region’s economic growth and development, social inclusion, and environmental sustainability.
Written by Mahama Kappiah, Executive Director of ECREEE
Culled from Africa Policy Reveiw (2015), P. 146 – 150
Full article available online here.
 Situation Analysis of Energy and Gender Issues in ECOWAS Member States (2015)