Approaching Energy Access Differently: How West Africa is Putting Women’s Interests on the Table

9 March 2017

Celebrating International Women’s Day takes many different forms, in many different countries and in many different sectors around the world. In West Africa, and in the energy sector, International Women’s Day provides an opportunity to recognize cutting edge work addressing women’s energy poverty. In West Africa, ‘ensuring universal energy access by 2030’ is proving to be more than just a political proclamation; African countries are fast-tracking their energy access goals by putting women’s interests at the center of policy solutions.

In 2015, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (ECREEE) and the ECOWAS Department of Gender and Social Affairs, with the support of Power Africa, developed a regional policy aimed at addressing barriers to women’s equal and meaningful participation in the expansion of energy access.

The ECOWAS Policy for Gender Mainstreaming in Energy Access is a unique, landmark policy that works to address the differential energy needs and concerns of women and men. The Clean Energy Ministerial’s Clean Energy Solutions Center (Solutions Center) assisted in the design of this policy. In December 2016, the policy was adopted by ECOWAS Energy Ministers, and Power Africa is supporting the Solutions Center to drive forward the implementation and replication of this policy across the continent.

This policy addresses the growing evidence base that energy deprivation more often has greater negative impacts on women. This is driven mainly by women’s lower socioeconomic status and rights at the household and community level, which limits a woman’s capacity to enjoy the same level of access to modern energy services as their male counterparts in the region.

Mahama Kappiah, Executive Director of ECREEE, has championed gender equality as a critical piece of improving energy access.

“The next technology revolution is set to happen in the clean energy sector. If the existing barriers are not addressed now, and women given the support to be engaged in the sector, it would be a missed opportunity not just for women but for the achievement of an inclusive and sustainable development.” – Mahama Kappiah, Situation Analysis of Energy and Gender Issues in ECOWAS Member States, 2015

The Policy has five central objectives including: creating widespread understanding of gender and energy issues through advocacy and awareness raising, as well as knowledge generation; increasing women’s participation in the energy industry public sector, both in a technical and decision-making capacity; ensuring that women, as much as men, have access to the same opportunities and resources to establish and run successful energy businesses; and lastly, ensuring that energy projects and investments become vehicles for closing gender gaps and promoting sustainable development[1].

ECREEE’s work has not gone unnoticed. ECREEE is now continuing to work with partners to replicate the policy in eastern and southern Africa.

This ground-breaking policy and continuing work on policy implementation is one example of how ECREEE and Power Africa, with the Solutions Center and many other partners, are putting women’s empowerment on the table and creating a more equitable energy sector across the African continent.

The Solutions Center is a cross-cutting Clean Energy Ministerial initiative that provides national and subnational governments with no-cost clean energy policy and finance advisory support. The Solutions Center is co-led by the Australian Department of the Environment and Energy and the U.S. Department of Energy. The Solutions Center is also supported by the Government of Sweden and Power Africa.