[Exclusive] Engaging Women in Southeast Asia Energy Development, Lesson Learnt from Norway

By Tina Bru

Wednesday, 10 Mar 2021

From Norway, H. E. Tina Bru, Minister of Petroleum and Energy, gave her perspective on women in the Energy-Climate sector in her article entitled “Engaging Women in Southeast Asia Energy Development, Lesson Learnt from Norway”.

My eyes were first opened to the energy sector through political work in the Parliament. That was when I first realized the energy sector’s vital role to ensure a sustainable and prosperous development of the society. Since then, energy has remained one of my favourite fields of interest.

As the Minister of Petroleum and Energy, it is my responsibility to manage Norwegian energy resources in a way that benefits our people. Both men and women, in urban as well as rural areas.

Norway is a relatively small country in Northern Europe, but rich in energy resources. Our electricity is almost exclusively generated from renewable sources. The backbone of our electricity system is hydro power, supplemented by onshore wind power. We also hold rich reservoirs of oil and gas which we harvest and export. Utilizing our energy resources in an effective and sustainable manner, has served the Norwegian society well for over a century.

Our energy resources, on- and offshore, are the foundation of the nation’s welfare. They contribute substantially to our economy and to job creation all over the country. In addition to supplying other countries with oil, gas and electricity, we also have a large supply industry serving these sectors. Our major energy companies like Equinor, Statkraft and Scatec are investing globally in energy projects. Both petroleum and renewable energy projects, built on Norwegian technology and know-how developed over decades.

To me it is important to improve the share of women in the energy sector in Norway, which is increasing too slowly. Promoting women’s participation will enable the energy sector to utilize the full spectrum of its potential. This is of particular importance as the world undergoes an energy transition based on novel ideas and sustainable solutions.

In modern Norwegian history, there has been a tremendous improvement in women’s participation in the labour force. Today, 2 out of 3 women are part of the Norwegian workforce. Women are now in majority at universities and other institutions of higher education.

Norway ranks as number 2 of 153 countries in the World Economic Forums Gender Gap Report 2020. The report covers work participation, education, health and political impact.

Despite gender equality being a key priority for the Norwegian government, the energy sector still has a way to go. Women only make up 21 % of the workforce in the energy industry, with limited improvement in recent years.

Despite a high degree of gender equality, the traditional gender roles are still challenging. One of the big challenges are young people choosing their education based on these roles. This in turn leads to a gender segregated work market – a market where large sectors like health and education are dominated by women while other sectors like industry, finance and energy are male dominated.

So, how can we then get more women engaged into the energy sector? In my view, it is about highlighting the opportunities it offers. This must be done by academia, energy organisations, and in particular the energy industry itself. When it comes to developing new and smart technologies and ways to operate, we need all clever minds! We simply can not afford to disregard the skills and initiatives of half the population.

Last fall, I took the initiative to gather 23 women from the wide range of the energy sector. Spanning from oil and gas to hydropower, we discussed how we collectively could improve the gender balance in our sector. Successful women in executive positions are important role-models for young women considering their future work-areas. This is as important in the energy sector as in other sectors. Especially when we realize the energy transition’s unfair effects on the genders.

Women, energy and development

Access to clean and sustainable energy services is important for a number of reasons. Ensuring economic growth and coping with climate change are some of them. It is obvious that women should and must be involved in structuring the energy policies. This is also reflected in the Sustainable Development Goals. SDG 5 to strengthen girls and women’s position in the society and to strive towards gender equality. SDG 7 to secure universal access to reliable, sustainable and modern energy services at an affordable price. Women are underrepresented in the energy sector, both at policy and decision-making levels, as well as in the sector’s workforce. This has serious consequences.

In a global perspective, energy poverty is not gender neutral. Based on the gender-roles in the household, the workplace and society, men and women are affected differently.

Globally, the number of people without access to electricity fell below 1 billion people for the first time in 2016 according to the World Bank. But still, around 3 billion people are using polluting and health-detrimental stoves for cooking. Due to traditional gender roles in the household, most affected are women. The recent SDG progress report from IRENA shows that there has been close to no progress on this in the last ten years.

For women in particular, a lack of modern energy sources has dramatic consequences. Due to traditional gender patterns in many countries, women often have the main responsibility of securing energy for the household. In lack of electricity and clean-burning ovens, this is both health deteriorating and time-consuming. This is the sad truth. These women’s health and time should be spent on greater things, such as improving their well-being through education and economic empowerment.

This highlights the importance of gender inclusive energy sector and -policy.

To globally reach SDG 7, we are dependent on an increased women’s involvement. We have to educate more women. We have to promote women entrepreneurship within the energy sector. We also have to secure women access to economic resources. And we have to lead by example as female role-models in the sector.

South East Asia and Norway

Norway and South East Asia are geographically far apart, but face many of the same challenges and opportunities.

Norway is pleased to fund the ASEAN Climate Change and Energy Project. In addition to gathering the ASEAN member states around the topics of clean energy and integration, the project emphasizes the role of women both within the project and in its external activities.

Energy innovation and gender equality are to a degree mutually reinforcing. Energy poverty disproportionately affects women and girls. Both in health effects from the use of toxic energy sources and time-consumption and workloads from energy-collection. It is not fair, and we have to do our best to change it. ASEAN’s impressive efforts to increase electrification rates and to improve for instance cooking stoves thus have direct gender impacts. This is much needed, important work.

Southeast Asia’s rising energy demand and potential to further accelerate its energy transition entails an enhanced role for women. Both in technical positions and policy development across the region.

Both the green transition and gender equality are global challenges, which demands our attention and effort. But both challenges offer great opportunities for improving the lives of men and women across the globe.

And to all women reading this, I am cheering for you. Please consider joining the energy sector to help solve the energy transition challenges in a better way.

Happy Women’s Day!

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