Gender inequality within the African and global energy industry has been long-standing. With women accounting for only 22% of the traditional energy sector workforce, and representing an even lower percentage at upper management levels, the need to reassess current employment structures and hiring processes is paramount. As International Women’s Day 2021 is celebrated globally, Africa Oil & Power (AOP) examines the primary obstacles inhibiting female progression within the African energy industry, with a view to identifying strategic areas for improvement. As gender inequality remains pervasive and a significant barrier to progress, Africa’s energy sector has the opportunity to be at the forefront of a global transformation, in which diversity and inclusivity drive long-term socioeconomic growth.
In order to foster gender inclusion, it is necessary to address the root of gender inequality: education, or lack thereof. According to the United Nations, poverty and subsistence living – and resultant cultural practices, such as childhood marriages and child labor – continue to impede access to education for girls and young women in sub-Saharan Africa. The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund reports that out of approximately 31 million girls of primary school age, roughly 17 million (or 54%) will never enroll in school. By prioritizing education-based initiatives that give young girls the opportunity to enroll and remain in school, energy and non-energy sectors alike will benefit from a significant rise in educated and qualified candidates.
Currently, a number of initiatives aim to drive gender equality in education by providing funding and support, dismantling barriers to education and allowing young girls to maximize the value of their schooling. Pan-African organizations such as the Campaign for Female Education, for example, aim to revolutionize the way in which girls’ education is delivered and focus on eliminating barriers to empowerment via education, including child marriage, social exclusion and poverty.
Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education serves as the driving force behind human capital development in the energy sector, particularly as the sector moves toward cleaner and more technologically reliant energy solutions. However, according to the World Economic Forum, women remain significantly underrepresented among STEM graduates, where the global gender gap stands at 47%, with 30% of male students graduating from STEM subjects, in contrast to only 16% of female students. Global Partnership notes that in many developing countries, factors preventing women and girls from accessing STEM opportunities include social norms and traditional cultural values, which consider STEM a domain better suited for males. This persistent attitude continues to exclude women and girls from the sciences and from accessing related job opportunities. By driving inclusivity within these fields, the sector can initiate a dramatic increase in innovation and technology, driven by heightened female participation and engagement.
Indeed, the only way that Africa will be able to stimulate sustainable growth across its energy value chain is through enhanced capacity building with regards to STEM-related fields. Organizations such as the Working to Advance Science and Technology Education for African Women Foundation (WAAW) – an international non-profit organization that targets STEM training, entrepreneurship and leadership opportunities for African women – are helping to drive gender equality throughout the sector.
Within the clean energy sector, the “Equal by 30” campaign represents a joint initiative of the Clean Energy, Education and Empowerment Initiative and International Energy Agency that targets equal pay, equal leadership and equal opportunities for women in clean energy by 2030. Speaking at the Equal by 30 launch event in May 2018, Isabelle Hudon, Co-Chair of the G7 Gender Equality Advisory Council, stated that “the successful transition to a low-carbon future will depend on our ability to harness all possible talent in service of the breakthrough of ideas and solutions that will transform our world. We simply cannot do it if half of the global population continues to sit on the sidelines. We need to take action together, to close the gender gap in energy and help women succeed in industries where they have traditionally been underrepresented.”
AOP has pledged its commitment to the Equal by 30 campaign to advance the participation of women in the clean energy transition. To learn more about the ‘Equal by 30’ initiative or make a commitment on behalf of your organization, please visit www.equalby30.org