Gender mainstreaming crucial cog in drive towards renewable energy uptake

by Kizito Sikuka – SANF 16 no 48

Southern African countries have agreed on the need to intensify efforts to harness renewable energy as the world is fast running out of traditional energy sources such as coal.

The push towards uptake of renewable energy resources and technologies is that such sources of energy are generally secure, as well as reliable and are less polluting to the environment as compared to fossil energy.

While significant progress is being made by the global community to embrace the use of renewable energy services and sources, more needs to be done to mainstream gender in the sector.

This is particularly important as the provision of energy services has different impacts on women and men.

For example, the majority of women in the Southern African Development Community (SADC), especially those who reside in the countryside, face energy-related hurdles and are tied into servitudes by the type of energy source available for their cooking and lighting needs.

Women also still face challenges in accessing renewable energy products and technologies because of the prohibitive start-up cost of installing such equipment.

As a result, they walk long distances to collect firewood, which is usually heavy, compromising their physical health and wellbeing.

A new report – Efforts and Benefits of Mainstreaming Gender in the SADC Renewable Energy Sector – urges for greater efforts by southern Africa to formulate and implement policies that mainstream gender in renewable energy initiatives.

According to the report, mainstreaming of gender in the SADC energy sector has the capacity to promote socio-economic development and poverty alleviation because access to energy is regarded as a “liberating factor for women, and a key enabling factor to allow women to play an equal role in the development of any region.”

The report says despite the existence of vibrant national and regional strategic documents on energy and gender, “the legal and policy framework in southern Africa does not reflect a strong consideration for mainstreaming gender energy policies and programming, let alone the renewable energy sector.”

For example, although the SADC Energy Protocol, the SADC Regional Infrastructure Development Master Plan (RIDMP) and Revised SADC Regional Indicative Strategy Development Plan (RISDP) have a common feature in that they refer to the need to mainstream gender, “these have so far remained only an expression that is mentioned in a non-obligatory manner that is difficult to enforce.”

As a way forward, there is need for greater political will by SADC countries to advance regional integration policies from stated intentions to actual application.

Another critical factor is to channel more resources towards gender mainstreaming activities, programmes and projects.

“Gender mainstreaming efforts are not likely to be sustainable unless an overall budgetary allocation is made in favour of the whole exercise,” reads part of the report published in August.

There is also need to establish gender desks and gender focal points in all relevant ministries. The creation of such desks will significantly close the gap between the gender mainstreaming declarations and the policies because of the expected follow-up action by gender focal persons through interpretation and practical implementation of the activities, programmes and projects.

The report on Efforts and Benefits of Mainstreaming Gender in the SADC Renewable Energy Sector was produced for the SADC Secretariat by the Southern African Research and Documentation Centre (SARDC) through the Regional Economic Development Institute (REDI) and the Beyond Inequalities Gender Institute — with support from the Austrian Development Agency (ADA).

The report – the first of its kind in southern Africa – aims to highlight the general status of the uptake of renewable energy services in southern Africa while interrogating the gender dimensions on access to these resources.

The objective is to build a strong evidence base on the benefits of mainstreaming gender in the sector and suggest strong recommendations for SADC member states and institutions such as the soon-be-operational SADC Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (SACREEE) to intensify efforts to develop comprehensive policies and guidelines for the inclusion of both women and men in energy policy formulation.

The creation of SACREEE, to be based in Windhoek, Namibia is expected to change the “landscape of energy development in SADC” by increasing uptake of alternative and renewable energy in southern Africa, enabling the region to address its energy challenges.

More than 74 percent of the electricity in SADC currently comes from thermal stations. The target is to achieve a renewable energy mix of at least 32 percent by 2020, which should rise to 35 percent by 2030.