Strengthening East Africa’s Energy Sector through Gender Equity

Miriam Njuguna utility female engineer working at the Roysambu substation in Nairobi, Kenya
Miriam Njuguna utility female engineer working at the Roysambu substation in Nairobi, Kenya
Miriam Njuguna utility female engineer working at the Roysambu substation in Nairobi, Kenya. Photo Credit: Mwangi Kirubi

The governments of Rwanda and Kenya, and several of their respective energy sector institutions, are committed to addressing gender inequality. In particular, the Government of Rwanda established a Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion, and the Kenyan Ministry of Energy, with support from Power Africa, launched a Gender Policy setting industry-wide standards aimed at enhancing gender inclusion within the energy sector.

Despite this favorable policy environment, a Power Africa assessment found that women are currently underrepresented in the East African energy sector workforce. Only 19 percent and 21 percent of formal positions in the energy sector are held by women in Rwanda and Kenya, respectively.

Further, few women hold leadership, management, or technical roles. When women are excluded from energy governance, decision-making processes are more likely to result in energy projects and policies that ignore the unique needs, knowledge and contributions of women.

Power Africa creates opportunities for women to participate as vital energy sector actors. In East Africa and across the continent, several key initiatives are essential for catalyzing and sustaining gender equity in the energy sector: Closing gender gaps in policy and decision-making processes, providing access to training opportunities and resources, expanding women’s leadership, and increasing the visibility of women’s contributions to the energy sector.

In Kenya and Rwanda, a recent Power Africa Gender Equity training supported the two countries’ energy ministries, power utilities and private companies to develop and implement gender-equitable human resource policies and practices that can help organizations recruit, retain, and promote women. Sessions included gender stereotypes and norms that affect gender balance within the workforce; gender gaps in the workplace and how to bridge them; and the business case for gender equity.

Using USAID’s Engendering Utilities Best Practices Framework, a proven and evidence-based guide to implementing gender equality interventions throughout the employee life cycle, the facilitators worked with the trainees to understand gender biases in hiring and how to adopt better practices. Additionally, the training included a session that explored the country-specific gender legal frameworks and their relevance to the energy sector. Power Africa is coupling this training with coaching of organization’s human resources departments, gender focal points, and gender committee members.

“I was surprised by how much gender stereotypes influence gender norms in general. This session got me thinking of how much our workplaces are influenced by gender stereotypes,” Munezero Solange, Shema Power Lake Kivu, Rwanda.

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In response to COVID-19, Power Africa pivoted to a virtual training platform. Participant engagement was enhanced through separate online breakout rooms and via WhatsApp discussions. Photo Credit: Power Africa

“Biases are so real in the hiring process. I have learned that the best way to address biases is to pre-empt them from the initial job application steps and plan to eliminate them in the entire hiring process,’ Agnes Obara, Kenya Power.

With higher levels of gender diversity within their workforce — specifically, in leadership and policy-making roles — utilities are better able to innovate, remain competitive and grow. There is a well-documented body of evidence that shows the links between the presence of more women on the board and increased profitability, return on investment and innovation.

Power Africa’s two-year Women in Rwandan Energy (WIRE) Initiative, funded by the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity (W-GDP) initiative, is working with the Rwandan Government and the private sector to bring 1,400 women into the fast-growing Rwandan energy sector. The initiative, which is also set to launch in Tanzania, is running an all-female apprentice program aimed at increasing employability prospects of apprentices and building a network of qualified energy sector workers

Additionally, Power Africa is working with utilities to revise and/or update their policies, in line with the utilities’ vision for gender integration. In doing so, we are supporting the utilities to develop and implement gender inclusive human resource (HR) guidelines, in accordance with the Engendering Utilities Best Practice Framework developed under Engendering Utilities. The HR guidelines will provide guidance to utilities regarding daily personnel-management decisions, including hiring and recruitment, development and training, employee interactions, and compensation. This will be undertaken in Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Ethiopia.

Power Africa is partnering with Engendering Utilities (EU) to co-develop an Accelerate EU Course, alongside Strathmore University. This course will energize a new generation of energy practitioners by providing coaches and mentors. The course will also build the capacity of a network of practitioners who have experience with implementing HR policies and practices that support gender equity. The course targets power entities and water entities across East Africa.

In Ethiopia, Power Africa supported the launch of Ethiopian Women in Energy Network (EWiEN). The network connects and empowers Ethiopian women working in the energy sector with the aim of promoting greater visibility, networking opportunities, mentoring, and professional connections between its 80 plus members.

Ethiopia Women in Energy Network launch
Ethiopia Women in Energy Network launch
Ethiopia Women in Energy Network launch. Photo Credit: Hossana video production

In Tanzania, the national network of women in energy was officially registered as Tanzania Women in Energy Development (TaWoED) in February 2020. Currently, Power Africa is supporting the Tanzanian network to create an online presence through development of a website and social media platforms.

In conclusion, Power Africa continues to support and grow women professional networks in Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, and Tanzania and we are committed to working with partners across East Africa to strengthen the role of women in East Africa’s energy sector.

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