12 July 2021

The importance of considering gender in energy transition

By now it is clear that the energy transition is about so much more than only science and technology. There are complex social realities and power dynamics that are critically important to ensuring that we undertake a just, swift and sustainable energy transition. ICLEI Europe staff have dug into how gender and gender-related power dynamics can (and must!) be more meaningfully considered in energy transitions. What follows is a summary and some excerpts of what they found.

The Council of Europe explains that: “Gender refers to the socially-constructed set of expectations, behaviours and activities of [people], which are attributed to them on the basis of their sex.” They go on to elaborate that these expectations depend on context and other factors, like race, class, and more. Although related, gender is not the same as sex, or sex assigned at birth.

A lot of research talks about gender simply in terms of numbers of men and women. However, this quantitative research is often criticised for not explaining what causes gender differences, how to overcome them, or why this difference matters. In other words, it may be a starting point to see what proportion of people in a given domain are male, but that isn’t the whole story.

For its part, the energy sector is one of the least gender diverse sectors. It is not just that there is a gender imbalance in the field, but that this imbalance is pervasive, and related to the task or job we are looking at within the energy sector – with men being way over-represented in managerial positions and in energy research, while women are more represented in the sector's administrative and service roles.

This gives us a good indication that there are other, underlying power dynamics at play that are resulting in this imbalance. These dynamics need to be identified and explored, and they should be the focus of "moving beyond numbers" when taking a gender perspective. This is especially true, since there is a marked lack of research to draw on that goes this extra mile.

The energy system is a complex manifestation of all sorts of social dynamics. As such, the energy transition should be discussed and designed as a social transformation that goes beyond only sustainable utilisation of energy resources, to meaningfully consider power relations, like those that lead to gender inequality.

A 2019 report commissioned by the European Parliament recommends, among other things, the following points to improve the situation in the energy sector:

  • Following the rationale that “what gets measured gets managed”, the starting point to creating more gender-equitable energy policy is collecting gender- and sex-disaggregated data.
  • To reduce the gender gap in renewable energy sector employment, an active promotion of gender equity in education and employment policies is needed.
  • To increase gender equality in local energy decision-making, we must pay attention to the gendered differences in what motivates people to participate, and promote the value of the non-technical skills needed in the energy transition.

Furthermore, initiatives across Europe are developing concrete ways forward that put into practice new ways of thinking about, doing, and organising life to be inclusive of people of all genders. Projects and organisations working on the energy transition should take inspiration from and partner with these promising projects.

For more information, read ICLEI's reflection in full here.

This work was conducted in the context of the Social Innovations in Energy Transition (SONNET) project, in which ICLEI Europe is a partner. Read more about the project at: