Towards environmentally sustainable economies through women’s inclusion in energy transition

Addressing current gender imbalances in the clean energy sector can accelerate just energy transition in the country.

Participants at the Dialogue Series

Panel Discussion

Keynote Speech

In making the shift to renewable energy, India has to manage the disruption of long-standing institutional arrangements in ways that enable clean energy in a sustainable manner. Without addressing the issue of the huge gender imbalance in the clear energy sector, this transition cannot happen. Even though research from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) shows higher percentages of women (32 per cent) working in renewables than the rest of the energy sector (because of its multidisciplinary dimension, renewable energy potentially appeals to women more than the fossil fuel industry), women’s participation in STEM jobs in the sector is still far lower than in administrative roles (28 per cent versus 45 per cent respectively).

The Indian Context

India has made significant progress in achieving its clean energy targets. As of 31st May 2023, data from Union Ministry of New and Renewable Energy shows that India’s installed renewable energy capacity reached 179 GW, of which solar and wind comprised 67 GW and 43 GW, respectively. The remainder is composed of small hydro, biomass, and other sources. India is now the fourth largest producer of renewable energy in the world. Despite this progress, India still faces a number of challenges in achieving its clean energy goals. Fossil fuels continue to play a significant role in India's energy mix. India's reliance on fossil fuels has raised concerns about air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. The country is among the world's top emitters of carbon dioxide, with fossil fuel combustion being a significant contributor. Despite the growth of renewable energy, fossil fuels are likely to remain a significant part of India's energy mix in the near future, given the country's growing energy demand and the need for reliable and affordable energy sources. However, efforts to improve energy efficiency and promote cleaner technologies can help reduce the environmental impact of fossil fuel use. The country's energy demand is growing rapidly, and it will need to continue to invest heavily in renewable energy to meet this demand. India also needs to improve its grid infrastructure to accommodate the increasing amount of renewable energy.

Women's participation in India's clean energy sector is steadily increasing, but there is still significant room for improvement. According to a 2022 report by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), women make up about 11 per cent of the workforce in India's rooftop solar sector, which is lower than the global average of 32 per cent for women in the renewables sector overall. However, it is higher than the percentage of women in other energy sectors in India, such as coal, oil and gas companies, and electricity utilities. The participation of women varies across the value chain of rooftop solar companies. The design and pre-construction phase, and corporate segment – which offer mostly office-based positions – have a relatively high share of female employees at 18 per cent and 34 per cent, respectively. However, women's participation is lower in the installation and maintenance phase, which is more labour-intensive and often involves fieldwork. It was with context in mind that FES partnered with Sustainable Design Research Consortium embarked on the dialogue series Women in Energy Transition: Dialogues for a Just Transition towards environmentally sustainable economies and societies for all.

Objectives of the Dialogue Series

The umbrella objective of the dialogue series was to advance India’s energy transition by promoting the leadership and participation of women in the clean energy transformation. The project explored the current gender imbalances in the clean energy sector and hoped to promote gender-sensitive action around the energy transition in a top-down as well as bottom-up approach. The series was also an opportunity to discuss among various Just Energy Transition stakeholders the potential next steps for a future roadmap for implementation of the country’s Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and the Sustainable Development Goals especially goal 5 (Gender Equality).

There were three tracts of regional and local experts discussing the four pillars of India’s energy transition: experiences from country policies and sectoral strategies towards environmental sustainability, the greening of enterprises and the promotion of green jobs specially in the MSME sector, citizen centric approach to combat climate change and a strong focus on social inclusion. This was followed by a multi- level Workshop-cum-Consultation involving key stakeholders of the Just Energy Transition from across the country focussed on addressing current gaps in realizing the just energy transition.

Common Themes that Emerged from the Dialogue Series

In each of the tracts, common themes emerged which discourage women from pursuing leadership positions, STEM fields, or other traditionally male-dominated areas.

Gendered Division of Labor: The expectation that women should primarily handle household chores and childcare, even when they have professional careers, creates an unequal burden and limits their time for personal development and career advancement and hindering their opportunities for leadership and equal pay.

Limited Access to Education and Resources: In India, girls and women still face barriers to education, financial resources, and technology.

Discriminatory Laws and Practices: Discriminatory laws and practices restrict women's rights to property ownership, inheritance, and equal participation in political and economic spheres.

Cultural Norms That Silence Women Coupled with Their Lack of Representation In Leadership: The underrepresentation of women in leadership positions across various sectors, including government, business, and academia, perpetuates the perception that women are less capable of leadership. This lack of representation can discourage young girls from aspiring to leadership roles and hinder the advancement of gender equality.

The report can be read at : Women in Energy Transition: Dialogues for a Just Transition towards environmentally sustainable economies and societies for all

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Sanjukta Mukherjee is the co-founder of a think and action tank Sustainable Design Research Consortium  which works on climate action, circular economy, Just Transition, gender justice and human rights. She is a Green Building Assessor, IEMA accredited Environmental Lead Auditor with post – graduate qualifications in urban environmental management currently on the verge of receiving her PhD focussing on social entrepreneurship ecology building and optimisation. She can be contacted at sjm(at)optimasolutionsconsulting.com

For more information about FES India's work on Socio-Economic Transformation project, please contact the India-based Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Office and follow the facebook page for regular updates.

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