Bridging the Gender Gap: Initiatives for Women in ASEAN Energy

By Indira Pradnyaswari and Aldilla Noor Rakhiemah 

Wednesday, 20 Mar 2024

It’s been more than a century – since the very first International Women’s Day was celebrated in March 1911, the movement for women’s rights has evolved. Originating from inequality, unfairness, and a lack of awareness about women’s rights in the workplace, this seed has now blossomed into a global movement– creating equal opportunities for women in all areas of life.  

Looking closer to ASEAN, the recognition of women’s contribution began formally in 1988 with the signing of the Declaration on the Advancement of Women in ASEAN by ASEAN’s foreign ministers.  The statement clearly underlines the importance of women’s active participation, aspiration, and integration within the region to meeting the needs for further ASEAN’s development.  The commitment also translated to the Declaration on the Gender-Responsive Implementation of ASEAN Community Vision  2025 and the Sustainable Development Goals which emphasises that gender equality is central to the 2030 Agenda and require multisectoral interventions and dialogues in a comprehensive way. Yet, the real question remains: How much progress has ASEAN made, particularly in integrating and boosting women’s involvement in the energy sector? 

While woman’s participation in the ASEAN energy sector is currently limited, making up about 8% of the workforce, particularly in areas such as the production of crude oil, petroleum, products and natural gas, there are encouraging signs of progress that highlight substantial opportunities for growth. The ASEAN Energy and Gender Report: Development Finance highlights that at the national level, countries like Cambodia, Indonesia, Myanmar, The Philippines, and Vietnam have launched several initiatives that position women as key drivers in community-based renewable energy projects, supported by international aid. Meanwhile, at the regional level, several projects have also been established with a clear direction for women’s involvement. Projects such as the ASEAN RE-Gender Roadmap, a collaborative effort between the ASEAN Centre for Energy (ACE) and the EmPower Project (UNEP and UN Women), have been initiated with a clear mandate for enhancing women’s participation in the ASEAN energy sector. Additionally, ACE plays a proactive role in the ASEAN Climate Change and Energy Project (ACCEPT), which emphasizes critical actions to foster gender equality within the energy sector. 

Indeed, the ASEAN region is already home to numerous initiatives aimed at promoting women’s participation in the energy sector, , signaling a future rich with opportunities. According to the ASEAN RE-Gender Roadmap, there are five key stakeholders critical for advancing gender equality in the energy sector: policymakers, renewable energy companies, local communities and organisations, universities, and regional and international institutions. This highlights the need for comprehensive multistakeholder collaboration.  

Learning from the Philippines, the country has institutionalized gender balance and equality through a specialized group within the Department of Energy (DOE), known as the DOE Gender and Development (DOE-GAD). The DOE acknowledges women as competent partners in policy and decision-making, advocating for and educating male counterparts about a gender-balanced work environment. Therefore, the DOE introduced the “Gender Toolkit for the Energy Sector” which is comprised of four main components as follows:

The GAD Strategic Framework Affirms the DOE’s responsibility in recognising, protecting, promoting, and fulfilling the right of women and me to equal opportunities and participation in the energy sector.
Integration of Gender Equality and Women Empowerment in Energy Sector Policies, Plans, Programs, and Projects Provides guidance on energy-sector policy, planning, key stages of program development such as stakeholder consultation, definition of the energy sector development problem, and design of the intervention.
The GAD Checklist Offers the checklist box for rating gender sensitivity and responsiveness within the energy-sector related initiatives
Mainstreaming Gender Equality and Women Empowerment Perspectives Integrating GAD goals in the main business of DOE and its bureaus, attached agencies, and Offices based on the Gender Mainstreaming Evaluation Framework of Philippines Commision on Women (PCW).

Source: Gender Toolkit for The Energy Sector (2016) 

Although ASEAN has launched numerous projects, programs, and initiatives across the region to boost women’s participation in the energy sector, there’s an opportunity to clarify and enhance regional targets and guidelines for achieving gender equality. The experience of the Philippines highlights the importance of having a dedicated body that systematically addresses gender-sensitive issues in traditionally male-dominated sectors. This could be seen as a potential entry point for developing a strategic framework for women’s involvement in the energy sector. Indeed, a strong commitment should be followed by concrete actions. 

From a regional standpoint, ASEAN is well-positioned to lead its Member States towards a stronger framework for gender equality in the energy sector, aligning with the need for a Just and Inclusive Transition towards low-carbon development. An initial step could involve ASEAN developing practical guidelines for the regulation of women’s roles in energy or establishing a dedicated working group focused on women in the energy sector. Such guidelines would aid Member States in formulating gender-sensitive energy policies, thereby enhancing outcomes for women. Additionally, these guidelines could help identify and address existing barriers to women’s inclusion in energy infrastructure and development, thus bridging the opportunity gap between men and women in the sector. By integrating gender considerations into the design of energy policies, ASEAN can significantly improve inclusivity for women and raise awareness about gender equality, which, in turn, could increase the representation of women at the decision-making level. 

To ensure a systematic approach, ASEAN might adopt a more quantitative strategy by setting periodic targets for women’s participation in energy programs, projects, or at the institutional level. However, the development of such comprehensive and inclusive regulations should also involve international collaboration, allowing for the incorporation of broader insights and adjustments that align with ASEAN’s future objectives. 

Additionally, ASEAN must prioritize the sustainability of these programs and the ongoing advancement of gender-focused energy policies. To achieve this, regulations should be accompanied by consistent capacity building, the implementation of long-term strategic action plans, and rigorous monitoring and evaluation processes. Collaborating with international women’s organizations and leveraging the expertise of existing gender departments within the region are essential steps in forging a vision that aligns with both regional and global aspirations for gender equality in the energy sector. 

Indira Pradnyaswari is an Associate Research Analyst at the ASEAN Climate Change and Energy Project (ACCEPT) and Aldilla Noor Rakhiemah is a Senior Research Analyst at ACCEPT.

The views, opinions, and information expressed in this article were compiled from sources believed to be reliable for information and sharing purposes only, and are solely those of the writer/s. They do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the ASEAN Centre for Energy (ACE) or the ASEAN Member States. Any use of this article’s content should be by ACE’s permission.

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