For a field as crucial to the modern world as energy, and one which equally impacts all people, women’s participation in the energy sector is still strikingly low. In 2020, the average proportion of women employed in the energy sector was as few as 22-25% globally. In Pakistan, the number of women in decision-making and leadership positions in the same field is negligible. Many studies in recent years have already proven the now-known connection between gender-equal leadership and higher rates of return. The Women in Power & Utilities Index by Ernst and Young Global Limited (EY) in 2019 showed that organisations in the energy sector with greater gender equality in leadership positions can boost innovation in the field. It is safe to say then, that we are actively disrupting Pakistan’s innovation potential in energy by not creating more space for women in the field.
The most prominent culprit for this gender gap is very likely the low female participation in science, engineering, technology and math (STEM) education and therefore its related careers. The second is, at the institutional level, a lack of collaboration and linkages between individuals and organizations working on gender empowerment, and those in energy. Lastly, while legal gender quotas in employment may establish a certain degree of female participation in the power sector, they do not guarantee their representation in key leadership roles. In order to achieve that, workplace policies need to include the creation and release of gender disaggregated data for greater transparency. State-level policies on workplace equality need to work on mandating this. When female representation at top levels is less than acceptable, disaggregated data is the first key step to acknowledge, then work on fixing those numbers.
Even in terms of technical training in Pakistan, the ratio of women is meagre at best. The World Bank in 2020 reported according to its survey that year that women made up only 11% of trainees in energy and utilities in Pakistan. It isn’t surprising then that women’s share in technical positions, according to the same report, was at 2% in the country? Pakistan needs to build female energy entrepreneurs, and this begins with increasing women’s technical training in the field.
Power today, we should remember, is a universally important sector. This means increasing this energy entrepreneurship is essential in both rural and urban settings. Working with microfinance institutions is a brilliant way to empower women in rural areas with the necessary technical and business skills. One example of this has been Roshna Bibi, part of the Light a Million Lives project of Buksh Foundation which has helped women run local solar powered businesses like charging stations and lamp shops. Roshna Bibi achieved this by providing women of local rural communities with the technical enterprise training including that of financial literacy, and microfinancing, to learn and empower themselves using renewable solar energy. This was carried out after extensive consideration of feasibility plans and local conditions of each village. The project constituted both a win for women in power as well as clean energy. It has led to an increase in the participants’ disposable income and therefore long-term empowerment and independence, to continue and expand their endeavours as a result.
Progress on Pakistan’s female involvement in the energy sector is certainly under way. The biggest fallback at the moment is their shortage at the highest decision-making levels. Women in Energy Pakistan (WIE) is an excellent platform coordinating between rising women leaders in the sector. It provides a space for the growing of a professional network that supports their growth and collaboration.
In 2015, USAID released an in-depth analysis and framework titled ‘Strategies for Gender Equity in Pakistan’s Energy Sector’ which addresses in great detail instruments to achieve exactly this. One of the solutions it discusses is raising the profile of gender-specific issues in Provincial Energy Departments (PEDs) and power organisations. When gender issues are a mainstream consideration in the sector, it will in turn highlight the pressing need for more women in leadership within it.
An easily implementable solution for power organisations both private and public is the introduction of a Gender Advisor/ Coordin-ator on their staffing appointments to mainstream gender priorities across programmatic interventions. This would provide companies with a designated role for conducting research on gender specific issues in energy and how best to coordinate and improve women’s representation in their companies internally as well as on their projects/work externally.
Empowering women in the power sector is especially important to me, considering my personal journey and experiences being the only woman in the room as the Director of Buksh Energy Private Limited and the CEO of Buksh Solar in my practitioner experience earlier till 2016, after which in my capacity as an independent advisor and policymaker I strove to work with multiple organizations including UNEP and UN Women to create action and advocacy around female leadership and engagement in the energy / power space. Then again, with my recent appointment by the Prime Minister of Pakistan on the board of the Diamer Basha Dam Project, I find myself to be the only woman in the room again. However, the difference now is that I am not the only woman in the room, but the only woman on the table, which gives me the opportunity to open the door and break the glass ceilings for enabling other young female professionals to enter the energy & power sector creating triple bottom line success for themselves and humanity at large.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2021