Asean paves its way on the energy and gender nexus

Southeast Asia needs to start looking at energy and women empowerment together. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations has a roadmap on how it can be done.

Woman electrician
Across Southeast Asia, women are under-represented in energy jobs but face outsized impacts from fossil fuel pollution. Image: Flickr/ UN Women.

There are several untapped methods to accelerate renewable energy deployment in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) to close the 8.8 per cent gap in 2020 and achieve the target of having a 23 per cent share of renewables in the region’s primary energy supply. 

Allowing women to play a meaningful role is one of them.  

Political momentum emerged during the 39th Asean Ministers on Energy Meeting in 2021, where a joint ministerial statement said that Asean will support the implementation of an inclusive and just energy transition to achieve energy security.  

Asean has been promoting gender inclusivity through its events and regional flagship publications. For example, in 2020, the Asean Gender Outlook found that women reap little benefit from their underemployment in the energy sector, but they tend to be hit harder by fossil fuel pollution. Recently, the Asean Centre for Energy (ACE) launched the Asean Energy and Gender Report: Development Finance, which called for member states to set gender targets for energy sector employment and include renewable energy in gender projects.  

Both documents highlight many constraints women face in being meaningfully involved in the energy sector. A key barrier is the lack of good data on gender in renewable energy adoption, socio-economic challenges, education and job opportunities. With more funding for energy projects having specific gender requirements, Asean could use this as an opportunity to accelerate renewable energy financing. Unfortunately, there is a very limited number of gender policies that are directly tied to the renewable energy sector to assure investors that they are participating in gender mainstreaming efforts. Asean should help to explore this untapped potential. 

The recently launched Asean RE-Gender Roadmap is the latest push in this front. It emphasises several key measures necessary for Asean to take toward gender-responsive renewable energy policies.  

The roadmap starts with raising regional capabilities and developing a database on gender in the renewable energy sector. Such a database, along with improving the data collection mechanism, is critical to better understanding the processes and impacts. Toolkits could also be developed to better support these efforts. 

After knowing the problems comes actual policy design, in renewable energy, gender and finance. Since policy formulation in these areas involve multiple departments and sectors in a country, Asean member states need to identify all relevant ministries and departments in their country to support this initiative.  

Asean member states also need to ensure that their new policies are monitored and evaluated, so that they can improve and align their approach with both their renewable energy and gender inclusion targets. This is also an opportunity to include gender aspects into the upcoming Asean Long-Term Roadmap for renewable energy. 

To kickstart this whole process, member states should consult Asean stakeholders and international institutions whose works focus on gender equality in the energy sector, to ensure a just transition. It could be in the form of financial support or technical assistance in taking the first step of pursuing this initiative. 

Building partnerships with academic institutions in the region is important too, since they play significant roles in capacity building in the renewable energy sector. Identifying the existing national academic institutions that offer renewable energy-related subjects can help Asean member states map gender gaps in renewable energy knowledge and training. It can be the starting point for increasing the number of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education by encouraging universities to develop renewable energy programmes in their curricula. 

Thinking ahead, this roadmap will enable the Asean member states to work towards a truly inclusive and just energy transition in the region.

Theresia Betty Sumarno lectures in management of energy and sustainability at the Aberdeen Business School in Robert Gordon University, UK. Amira Bilqis is an energy modelling and policy planning associate at the Asean Centre for Energy.

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