The development of a policy that will help address barriers hindering participation of women in energy access in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) region is underway. The policy is being developed together with a strategy that will guide its implementation across the countries. The process was launched during a workshop that was held on Tuesday, February 24 at the African Development Bank (AfDB) headquarters in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire.
The initiative is being spearheaded by the AfDB in collaboration with the ECOWAS Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (ECREEE), and United States-based National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).
Through the policy, the governments of the 15 ECOWAS countries will be committed to concerted actions which address gender disparities that exist in the energy sector. It is expected that this will steer the West Africa region towards a sustainable energy development trajectory, drawn from the principles of inclusiveness and equality.
“When energy investments are decided upon through a gender-informed process, and designed to factor in gender sensitivities, women and girls stand to benefit the most. This is because they are often marginalised socially and economically when and where energy access is limited,” said Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, AfDB's Special Envoy on Gender.
ECOWAS statistics indicate that about 60% of the region's 300 million population lack access to efficient, modern and safe energy. Traditional biomass, harvested in an unsustainable manner and used in inefficient energy conversion technologies, accounts for over 80% of household energy requirements in ECOWAS countries.
According to Mahama Kappiah, Executive Director of ECREEE, “Women and children, given their role in the household energy supply, are the most affected. Apart from the valuable time and effort devoted to fuel collection, a global estimate of 1.3 million people – mostly women and children – die prematurely every year from exposure to biomass indoor air pollution.”
This calls for inclusion of women in discussions about investments in safe and sustainable energy supply systems. The ECOWAS Commissioner for Social Affairs and Gender, Fatimata Dia Sow, cited a successful initiative of providing solar energy to communities in Mali and Senegal, which increased productivity of women. “Access to energy through cost-effective means such as solar pumps and panels has enabled women in these countries to produce goods and enter into markets nationally and regionally,” she noted.
During the workshop, it was highlighted that addressing energy problems through a gender lens, will utilize women's human capital, contributing to the region's goal of sustainable energy access for all.
The proposed policy, the first of its kind globally, will ensure that women make both intellectual and business-wise contributions to ending the region's energy crises. Women comprise up to 50% of the ECOWAS population and 43% of its labour force.
The draft policy documents are expected to be reviewed by technical experts in June 2015 before adoption by the region's Energy and Gender Ministers.
AfDB has made extensive investments in the energy sector across the ECOWAS region. Between 1998 and 2014, the Bank approved 40 energy operations (energy projects and/or programs) through its public- and private-sector financing windows. This amounted to a total of US $1.45 billion.