Renewables and Gender Equity: Where to begin?

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I recently attended an interesting workshop on renewable energy and gender.  This was not a workshop to celebrate women, nor an opportunity to pull out the lobbying placards for women’s rights. Rather it was a measured and serious look at how supporting gender equality in the energy decision making process could benefit climate change activities.  Specifically, the workshop looked at how we (women and men) could use our collective knowledge on development, energy and gender to drive low emissions development planning.

The entry point for discussion was the renewable energy sector. What became clear over the three days’ discussion was that while we “know” that men and women often use energy services differently—and frequently make different types of decisions—there is scarce quantitative data to support these statements.  While numbers by themselves do not tell the whole story, they do support observed trends.  Numbers help track evolution and provide decision makers with the “proof” that a particular policy or measure has worked (or not). But the 10,000 Euro question is “how”?  Is it sufficient to simply add a gender component to any data collection process, e.g. how many men, how women benefited/participated?  How do we track how gender may/can increase the uptake of renewables and its long-term contribution to low emission, clean development?

I don’t have the answers but it would seem to me that we should not get caught up in debating what the best questions to ask are. If we are serious about tracking how gender contributes to low emission and clean development then would it not be better to start the data collection process, however flawed, modifying and improving it as we learn?  This circular data collection process is what underpins REN21’s work.  The evolution of its Global Status Report from an initial 30 pages to its current length of 200+ pages attests to the success of an iterative process.

To quote John Maynard Keynes—a 19th century British economist—“it is better to be approximately right, than precisely wrong.” He has my vote.