Author : Aparna Roy

Expert Speak India Matters
Published on Mar 14, 2022 Updated 7 Days ago
India needs to structurally tackle the gender inequalities in job opportunities available in the renewable energy sector for the country to achieve a net-zero future.
Empower women to achieve just energy transition

The United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report that was released last week has warned of dangerous consequences of climate change ahead. Accelerating progress of economies towards net-zero emissions is, therefore, not an option but an imperative. In its urgent recommendations, the report emphasised that a key area, where governments should take the lead, is supporting the skills and knowledge required to create zero-carbon societies.  However, without a plan to address the gender inequalities in opportunities that this transition would create, economies would not achieve a ‘just’ and equitable path to a net-zero future.

India has committed to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by the year 2070. This is projected to create over 50 million new jobs. A major enabler of this goal is the shift to renewable energy (RE) from conventional fossil fuel-based energy. India has set an ambitious target of achieving 500 GW of RE capacity by 2030, of which more than 100 GW of installed RE capacity has already been achieved. Yet, women account for an estimated 11 percent of the workforce in RE sector in India, which is significantly less than the global average of 32 percent. India's renewable energy sector would potentially employ around one million people by 2030, with emerging opportunities in new infrastructure, low-carbon manufacturing, etc. Women are likely to miss this employment opportunity if their requisite skills, capital, and networks are not built today.

The question that needs to be addressed: How can the energy transition ensure more opportunities for women to enable a just, sustainable, and inclusive transition? What are the entry points that the government and private sector could support for the inclusion of more women in associated sectors?

First, acknowledging, identifying, and assessing the causes of gender-bias and inequality in the sector is the stepping stone towards mainstreaming gender in clean energy targets. This raw information, data, and research is a pre-requisite for devising plans to address the inherent challenges associated with women inclusion in green energy sector jobs. Gender-specific challenges in energy transition emanates from socio-cultural biases that restricts women’s expression, ability to onboard to new opportunities, and freedom. In a primary research experience, in western Rajasthan in India—one of the epicentres of solar and wind power installations, most of the local jobs are occupied by men because women as a cultural norm are constrained to remain within the four walls of their homes and run the households. On the other hand, there are various instances of structural discrimination against women workforce that are payed lower wages and deprived of basic workplace necessities.

India's renewable energy sector would potentially employ around one million people by 2030, with emerging opportunities in new infrastructure, low-carbon manufacturing, etc. Women are likely to miss this employment opportunity if their requisite skills, capital, and networks are not built today.

There is a need for government departments such as the labour department, social welfare department, women and child development department, and other nodal agencies to collaborate and generate a comprehensive data and research evidence on the impact of the rapid energy transitions on women employment as well as the transformational role women can play in clean energy projects. This will allow the designing of effective and targeted development schemes and programmes that could address the problem.

Second, skilling of women, particularly in the Science Technology Engineering Mathematics (STEM) fields is extremely crucial. This is important given the fact that most of the renewable energy jobs are high skilled in nature which requires expertise in STEM fields. The National Science Foundation estimates that in the next decade, 80 percent of the jobs created will require STEM. Currently, women in India occupy just 14 percent of STEM jobs. Unless adequate trainings, certifications, and skill programmes are implemented focused on training, retaining, and incentivising women in STEM field, women workers will most likely be deployed for menial, temporary jobs such as helpers and support staff. This will require handholding support apart from creating an education system that provides opportunities to willing women to choose careers in STEM fields. An education regime encouraging women in STEM will help in creating a sizeable number of women leaders, managers, engineers, and technical workforce in green jobs associated with renewable energy solutions.

Third, the cultivation of a culture by the RE companies that fosters gender-responsive working. Adopting effective strategies that promotes gender equity such as hiring policies that ensure inclusivity in the entire value chain as well as leadership roles will go a long way in welcoming structural reforms. Undertaking gender-related opportunities and risks assessment by the companies that can highlight the socio-economic and environmental factors that can influence an RE project such as availability of a gender to participate in project activities, women’s mobility, expected changes in their workload, etc. would lead to strategic efforts by the companies to address the gaps. Gender equality as an investor-driven strategy can also enable renewable energy companies to fare well in environmental, social, and governance (ESG) metrics.

Unless adequate trainings, certifications, and skill programmes are implemented focused on training, retaining, and incentivising women in STEM field, women workers will most likely be deployed for menial, temporary jobs such as helpers and support staff.

Finally, these strategies will yield beneficial results if corresponding behavioral shifts and socio-cultural shifts accompany them. These relate to shattering the cultural norms that hinder women from participating in social, political, and economic discourses that are shaping up around clean energy transition. Whilst this is a long-term and slow process, such shifts are essential for realising the dream of a ‘just’ clean energy transition and an inclusive society.

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Author

Aparna Roy

Aparna Roy

Aparna Roy is a Fellow and Lead Climate Change and Energy at the Centre for New Economic Diplomacy (CNED). Aparna's primary research focus is on ...

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