#Standtall: Terminating Gender Based Discrimination and Revamping the Energy Sector with Female Professionals in West Africa

April 14, 2015 | By
Etido Elijah

The Energy sector is an important and integral part of any Nation. The Energy sector comprises of Petroleum, Gas, Electric power, Coal, Nuclear power and Renewable energy Industries. The availability of energy is a necessity since it accelerates development at all levels. As regards this, campaigns , projects and programs are launched annually to facilitate the growth of this sector. Therefore, it’s importance cannot be underestimated. However, it is important that this sector is diversified in terms of its professionals as it is often referred to as a “male-dominated” field. Professional access to the energy sector is mainly based on a scientific or engineering education, in which women are woefully underrepresented. One of the Millennium Development Goals in most countries for example Norway is to promote gender equality and empower women in every sector. This diversification in gender would allow individuals with meaningful contributions to contribute their own quota towards the development of the country. Women are underrepresented as professionals in the energy sector especially the technical areas and the qualified women with technological expertise tend to encounter obstacles deterring them from engaging in energy enterprise. As a result, these women are missing out on opportunities to leverage learning and skills in interesting and rewarding careers, explore new fields, develop new knowledge and solutions and benefit from the gains of financial independence and economic equity(Carol, 2003).

The proportion of women in the energy sector is about 25% of the total workforce. Statistics has clearly shown that women are underrepresented in the technical areas of the energy sector. According to the Census Bureau’s 2009, American Community survey, women comprised 48 percent of the United State workforce but just 24 percent of workers in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) field(National Science Foundation, 2000). Engineers are the second largest STEM occupational group after Computer and Mathematics, but only about one out of every seven Engineers are female( Beede et al, 2009). In Australia, only 9.6% of Engineers are females and the rate of female graduates with a degree in Engineering course has remained around 14% since the 1990s( Beede et al, 2009). In 2010, the women’s labour force participation rates remained below 30 percent in Northern Africa and Western Asia; Below 40 percent in the Southern Asia; and below 50 percent in the Caribbean and Central America(United Nations Statistics Division, 2010). The share of Female Engineers in the Electricity Economy in Germany is about 6% reflecting more or less their share in relevant course of of studies relating to STEM(Clancy et al, 2003). Female responses to a 2008 survey of energy professional from 75 countries by the energy institute in the United Kingdom made up only 9% of total responses. The percentage of women in the energy sector economy on the basis of the facts elucidated above is hardly exaggerated. In Africa , especially West Africa, the lack of available data is a major setback in assessing the underrepresentation of females in the STEM fields.

The dearth of female professionals in the energy sector can be traced back to the educational pipelines. The undergraduate degree courses are recognized as the portal of entry into this profession. Without this pre-qualification being met to a large extent on the part of the young aspiring college female students, the number of females in this technical areas would experience a decrease from what is obtainable now. In Nigeria today, using my school(Nasarawa State University, Keffi) as an example, the female undergraduates studying the STEM courses are less than 20% of the total students studying the STEM courses. A study carried out at a tertiary institution in Nigeria, Yaba College of Technology showed that the number of females enrolling for technical courses were about 12%(World Bank, 1987). Studies from other tertiary institutions showed little or no difference as they were below 20 percent. Statistics also showed that the overall share of females in the Vocational and Technical Education in 39 Sub-Saharan countries increased by only one percentage short in the period 1970 to 1983, from 27 to 28 percent of all participants(World Bank, 1987). Nonetheless, we still have less than average of students enrolling in this courses today. These students, after graduation are not given the opportunity to work in these fields due to lack of job opportunities and discrimination.

As young boys and girls growing up, the norms of our cultures shape the way we think and the roles and responsibilities we shoulder. The males are raised to carry the “hard” responsibility and the females, the “soft” responsibility. As a result of this male-female role stereotyping, females grow up with the mentality that the technical fields i.e STEM, suits the males better. In Africa , some cultures regard the females as inferior to men and are not expected to aspire as high as the men especially in the male dominated fields. It is often assumed that educating women would make them too independent. In addition to this, coupled with economic problems, most parents would rather invest in a male child as it is concluded that the female would marry off but times have changed and there has been huge improvements in the girl’s education.

From the foregoing , the underrepresentation of women in these STEM fields makes it an issue of concern because of the practical implications it has on the technological advancement of a country’s economy. Thus the question remains , why can’t there be equal opportunities for both aspiring males and females in this technical areas?

What are the Possible Underlying factors responsible?
The factors responsible for underrepresentation of female professionals in the energy sector are not far-fetched and they include the following:-

Socio-cultural Factors and Misconceptions concerning women
The norms of the African culture have stereotyped the roles the males and females can play so the technical areas are left to the men. The society perceives these fields as more suitable for the men. Also, the women are undervalued because the African culture splits between work and family. The Africans believe the women are supposed to take of the home and as such, the women find themselves in an difficult situation.
It is believed that the women don’t have the ability and drive to succeed in this technical fields. It is also often said that women are more interested in family than in career as a result of which they take more time off due to childbearing so they are considered a bad investment.

Overt and Covert discrimination, and bias
This gender based discrimination is channeled on the assumption that men are mathematically superior and innately better suited to STEM fields than Women. Females are often said not to have the spatial skills necessary for succeeding in STEM. Experienced males in the field are reluctant in assisting the young women in their fields. The lack of support in the STEM fields which are outnumbered by Men make the women tend to cluster in some fields like the humanities. The men are assumed much more competent and hirable in their field with same qualification as the women and the women are less likely to be promoted, and invited for job interviews.

Lack of interest and problems in STEM fields
Researches have shown that men demonstrate stronger tendencies towards realistic and investigative interest and women, towards artistic, social and conventional interests. Women drop out of STEM fields at almost all stages of their career. The girls are shown less attention in classrooms and also lesser laboratory experience. Therefore, their lack of experience and opportunities to learn in the classrooms leads to a loss of self-esteem in pursuing a career in science.

Lack of role models and Mentors
The lack of female professionals as role models in these technical fields is an obvious one. The male role models in these fields outnumber and over shadow the females.

Possible ways by which this issue can be addressed
This issue can be addressed through the combined efforts of major institutional players i.e Governments, Universities/Research institutions, Business and industry, Academies, Learned and Professional Bodies and Women’s Organizations at the global and national levels by following ways:-

Education in STEM fields
This involves encouraging young females to pursue degrees in STEM fields and educating these students about the benefits of sciences and technology and how they can contribute their own quota to the society. By also encouraging the students with an unbiased attitude that both sexes have equal chances of excelling in the STEM fields. More so, Creating a critical mass of qualified women will have a great impact on the gender balance in energy institutions through supporting Women’s Professional development in the technical and higher education. Provision of scholarship and competitive grant would suffice in motivating the girls to look at the positive sides.

Enacting Effective Energy sector policies
The Federal governments globally and national especially in West Africa should develop policies that aim at increasing women’s scientific productivity and promote their careers. They should also enact hiring policies in the energy sector that does not stereotype or discriminate between the two genders and eliminate occupation segregation. In addition, the government should not just enact these policies but also make gender and rights concerns an integral part of the energy sector policy dialogue. This would go a long way in promoting women’s meaningful representation in the energy sector.

Development of Strategies and programs to eliminate gender inequality
In 2001, Norway and 188 other UN member states endorsed Millennium Development Goals for eliminating poverty which includes gender equality and women’s human rights commitments. Business and Industries advisory board should develop gender equity strategies that will address the issues of underrepresentation in the energy sector. The Government can take the lead in committing itself to a national strategy aimed at retaining and promoting women in STEM fields. The Governments can also develop projects which aim to advance equal opportunities by promoting the positive benefits employing women brings to the technical areas.

Promoting a diverse workforce in the energy sector
The energy sector is viewed as a male dominated but by promoting a diverse workforce and adopting the approach of recognizing the contributions people offer as capable individuals rather than as member of a designated group in the workforce, this gender based discrimination can be eliminated. In Norway, progressive attitude about women in the workforce and pressure by country leaders resulted in the employment of more women into the oil sector.

Generating and Publishing data
In Africa, West Africa especially, there is lack of available data on these issues of gender inequalities albeit the few obtained on STEM fields in academics. The Businesses, industries, Academic and professional bodies and other institutional players should ensure that the appropriate data as regards this gender issue are retrieved , analyzed, and reported regularly and the trends examined.

In effect to the above spelt out remedies, the positive outcomes to be expected are:- Increased number of women pursuing degrees in the technical fields, increased percentage of women working in the technical areas of the energy sector, more senior female academics in the STEM fields that can serve as role models to the young females and Recognition of equal caring responsibilities for both sexes. The young females would be self-confident in their abilities to succeed in the technical fields. The availability of data on these gender inequality in West Africa and Africa as a continent would be a giant stride toward this initiative. These alternatives would diminish gender-based discrimination to the nearest minimum in the energy sector. The Idiosyncrasies held by our culture and society at large would be combated and this beliefs and assumptions would be obliterated gradually but eventually. Thus, suffice to say these outcomes cannot be achieved without the combined efforts of the key institutional players.

These contending issues be brought to light for the Government Agencies to tackle as this is a global and national problem that affects every nation. Through the Government Agencies, these efforts and strategies to bring revolution to the energy sector will be down streamed to other institutional players e.g Business and Industry, Academics e.t.c. These students lack the necessary guidance concerning the careers courses they should delve into and so are confused and lose interest in the STEM fields as a result of stereotyping. Therefore, the establishment of well-informed and functional Guidance and Counseling units in our schools would go an extra-mile to stop the underrepresentation in the energy sector.

In conclusion, the Energy Sector can be transformed with meaningful contributions from both sexes but has been hindered due to the stereotyping of roles resulting in the underrepresentation of female professionals in the energy sector. By tackling this problem with the aforementioned alternatives, this issue will be a thing of the past. More so , We as individuals have the responsibility of terminating this discrimination if we make a resolution to stand against it because united we stand and divided we fall. We must remember that the ultimate contributors to these changes are the Families, Communities, school Teachers, Academics, Mentors of Women Scientists, Business and Industries, and the Government.

An endnote in the words of Kofi Annan-“There is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women…Gender equality is critical to the development and peace of every Nation”.

Bibliography

Beede, D., Tiffany, J., David, L., George, M., Beethika, K., and Mark, D.(2009). “Women in STEM: A gender gap to innovation”, United States department of commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration, 2009. www.est.doc.gov

Carol, B. M.(2003). The Underrepresentation of Women in Engineering and Related Sciences: Pursuing Two Complementary Paths to Parity,MentorNet.

Clancy, J. and Roehr, U.(2003). “Gender and Energy: Is there a Northern Perspective?” Energy for Sustainable Development 7(3): 44-49.

National Science Foundation(2002). Chapter 3: Science and Engineering Workforce—Women and Minorities in S&E. Science and Engineering Indicators.. http://
www.nsf.gov/sbe/srs/seind02/

United Nations Statistics Division(2010). The world’s women, 2010: Trend and Statistics. Demographic and Social Statistics.

World Bank (1987) “Vocational and Technical Education and Training ” World Bank Policy Paper. (Washington, D.C.: World Bank)

Author: Etido Elijah

A Nigerian student with passion for writing currently studying at Nasarawa State University in Nigeria. He resides in Nigeria. He also owns a blog. Email- tido2brown@gmail.com

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