Leaving No One Behind: DRC’s Rural Electrification Agency Commits to Gender Equality
The Government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) tasked its National Rural and Peri-urban Electrification and Energy Services Agency (ANSER) to meet the ambitious goal of connecting an additional 15 million people to electricity by 2025.
Power Africa assistance, through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), helped ANSER develop a gender strategy to deliver equal benefits of electrification for the women and men of these communities. USAID’s Power Africa Off-grid Project collaborated with the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change (TBI) to carry out this work. TBI works in partnership with Power Africa to deliver the Senior Advisors Group program and the Power Africa Off-grid Project provides technical assistance and tailored grant funding to help develop DRC’s off-grid solar home system and mini-grid sectors. Power Africa is a U.S. Government-led partnership that harnesses the collective resources of over 200 public and private sector partners to double access to electricity in sub-Saharan Africa.
Rural electrification does not automatically benefit everyone. Because gender roles influence how women and men use energy, electrification can have unequal outcomes in households, communities, and the market. Although access to electricity allows women and men to engage in a wider range of income-generating activities, women in particular face numerous barriers to employment throughout the energy sector, including as decision-makers and entrepreneurs. Those responsible for planning and implementing rural-electrification projects should be aware of gender disparities in energy and strategize how to overcome them.
Understanding the imperative of gender-inclusive rural electrification, ANSER requested Power Africa’s advisory support to develop a strategy to achieve gender equality within the institution’s operations and its electrification projects. Since 2021, Power Africa has assisted ANSER to pilot electrification projects and to set up its Mwinda Fund for off-grid rural electrification. Integral to this support is the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change (TBI), which works in partnership with Power Africa to deliver the Senior Advisors Group program. This program has embedded an advisor within ANSER since 2021 to assist the agency to develop its strategy and policies, devise rural-electrification plans, and prioritize investment programs.
ANSER’s request aligned with Power Africa’s objectives to increase women’s participation in Africa’s energy sector and help them gain access to energy products and services. ANSER’s vision is to bring women onboard to “be part of the conception of electricity projects,” said Idesbald Chinamula, ANSER’s Director General, helping them participate “in the technological advancements that will promote more productive uses of energy.” He was clear that he sees women as more than just consumers of renewable energy:
“We want women to create enterprises, be entrepreneurs, and develop the value chain so that this allows both men and women to benefit from electricity access. Given that we are still a young institution, this is precisely the best moment for us to integrate gender-inclusive considerations into our policies and project-implementation guidelines.”
To develop the gender strategy, and to ensure institutional commitment and ownership, Power Africa and ANSER collaborated to sensitize the agency’s leadership and staff to the importance of gender equality in energy. Power Africa then prepared the first draft of the strategy and shared it with the agency for its review and input.
Power Africa worked with ANSER to organize a three-day workshop in October 2022. Those participating were ANSER’s leadership and key personnel; representatives of the Office of the Presidency of the DRC; DRC’s Ministry of Gender, Family, and Children; DRC’s Ministry of Hydraulic Resources and Power; the United Nations Development Program; the Congolese Association for Renewable and Decentralized Energy (ACERD); and Power Africa representatives. Participants convened at ANSER’s headquarters where ANSER finalized and validated the strategy, culminating in the Director General’s official adoption of the Strategy to Promote Gender Equality in Access to Energy Services in Rural and Peri-urban Areas.
The Strategy to Promote Gender Equality in Access to Energy Services in Rural and Peri-urban Areas promotes gender inclusion at two levels. First, ANSER will strengthen gender inclusion in its governance, culture, and operations throughout the institution. The strategy’s commitments aim to remedy the traditionally very low participation of women in technical and leadership roles in the energy sector. Second, for its policy, planning and programs, ANSER will pursue gender inclusion across its electrification projects. This new gender strategy guides ANSER how to assess and meet the energy demands of both women and men, equipping the agency to remove more barriers to energy access.
To enable ANSER to promote gender equality in its local context, Power Africa grounded the gender strategy in the DRC’s national and international commitments to gender equality. The strategy aligns with DRC’s Constitution, its National Gender Policy, the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, the Protocol to the Africa Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, and the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women. Framing the strategy within these commitments is important as it makes clear that gender equality is indivisible from development (especially rural electrification) and that it is a human right, which the strategy states explicitly.
A pillar of the strategy is the detailed Gender Action Plan which includes six objectives and more than 30 corresponding activities. Each activity is assigned a timeframe, progress indicators, and members of ANSER’s personnel responsible for the activity. The Gender Action Plan serves as a road map for gender equality in rural electrification and is an important tool for monitoring and accountability.
Some of the activities that the Gender Action Plan stipulates ANSER should undertake as an institution are to:
- Analyze wage gaps annually and correct salaries accordingly if and where necessary.
- Develop an anti-sexual-harassment policy, corresponding internal communication channels, and capacity-strengthening that will help to implement the policy.
- Apply gender-inclusive recruitment measures informed by good practice.
- Reach out to educational institutions to promote careers for women in renewable energy.
For its electrification projects, ANSER commits to:
- Integrate gender considerations into environmental, social, and impact assessments.
- Consider women’s participation, skills development, and company policies in evaluating proposals for electrification projects.
- Ensure that community consultations involve groups comprising at least 50 percent women.
- (Re)define project indicators to capture the outcomes of electrification for women and men.
The strategy outlines a structure for an internal Gender Committee, which ANSER established to drive and monitor implementation of the Gender Action Plan. Power Africa continues to support ANSER to implement the Gender Action Plan by sharing good practice, providing expert guidance, and helping to recruit an internal gender expert.
“This strategy, supported by Power Africa, outlines ANSER’s commitment to gender equality in the workplace and in communities. It guides the agency to prioritize women’s empowerment and improved economic and health outcomes.”
— Idesbald Chinamula, Director General of ANSER
The gender strategy comes at a crucial time. ANSER’s investment program has prioritized more than 250 electrification projects in rural and peri-urban areas with the potential to provide electricity for about 15 million people in DRC by 2025. By adhering to the commitments ANSER makes in its gender strategy, women and men will benefit equally from ANSER’s ambitious initiatives, which will yield lessons in gender inclusion that can be applied from project to project. In a country of more than 90 million inhabitants and where only one-fifth of the population has access to electricity, the strategy’s commitments and guidelines empower ANSER to serve millions of people who may otherwise have been unintentionally excluded.