Charlin Bodley interviewing Anita Otubu

Gender-Inclusive Strategies Are Key to Advancing the Energy Transition

Two female energy professionals, from Saint Lucia and Nigeria, discuss the importance of gender equity in the clean energy transition.

According to the International Renewable Energy Association, women hold only 32 percent of renewable energy jobs globally, and even a smaller percentage across the Global South. Moreover, the International Energy Association estimates that 14 million new clean energy jobs must be created globally by 2030 to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, and 1.8 million energy sector jobs will need to be created in Africa alone in order to achieve universal energy access by 2030. This means we need everybody — half of the population cannot be left out of the critical need to accelerate the clean energy transition, increase universal energy access, and ultimately drive urgent climate action.

Women and girls are also hit the hardest by climate change impacts, yet women are actively finding solutions and innovating at the frontlines in their communities.

Charlin Bodley, who serves as a manager with RMI’s Energy Transition Academy and leads the Women in Renewable Energy (WIRE) Network sat down at New York Climate Week with Anita Otubu, previously head of the project management unit under Nigeria’s Rural Electrification Agency (now senior director leading the Universal Energy Facility at SEforALL). They discussed factors critical to unlocking gender parity in the energy sector. Their conversion was edited for space.

Q: You are a lawyer by training, and a certified project manager. How did your journey lead you to this post at the Rural Electrification Agency?

A: I studied law and was born and raised in the UK, and it was a passion of mine to help people with legal issues. I decided that I wanted a change of environment and moved to Nigeria, because that’s where my parents are from. Living in Nigeria, you realize that the major issue that the country is faced with is access to reliable, affordable power. It’s a major issue that essentially affects the entire society, whether it’s the education system, healthcare system, or the economy.

Q: Noting the underrepresentation of women and critical gender gaps in the energy sector, can you share with me some key strategies to close these gaps, and to ensure that women are equally benefiting from clean energy services provided in the fight against climate change?

A: I think number one, promoting the success of females who have been thriving in the sector is important to encourage more gender inclusion. Secondly, having a comprehensive database of women who are working in the space. You find a lot of companies would say, yes, we want to employ women, but don’t want to just employ women that don’t have the expertise. I think it’s also important to give many women who are probably not at the leadership level, the opportunity to shadow those leaders, whether they be male or female, or give them acting capacity sort of opportunities, as well.

There’s a need for a lot more mentoring. For example, under the Energizing Education Program phase one that I headed, we trained 140 female students who were from the beneficiary universities in which we built the captive power plants. We had 20 female students get training in the both the design and implementation of the projects to ensure that the women were taking notes on what they could see where they actually got involved in the installation.

Q: With COP 27 being around the corner, it really is a big moment for the Global South to spotlight and to collaborate on climate solutions. How do you see countries with a mix of priorities, sharing lessons and best practices?

A: I think it may be a bit early to share lessons and best practices since we’re still at the beginning stages of the energy transition, globally. I think what these countries need to be really speaking about at COP 27 is their own country-specific sort particularities, what their needs are. For example, when we’re talking about energy transition, we’re talking about transitioning to a clean power supply. But for those countries that don’t even have universal access to power within their countries, particularly in the rural communities, they’re not essentially so concerned about the long-term effects of climate change, they’re concerned about the fact that they don’t know where they’re going to get food tomorrow to eat, or how they’re going to pay for school fees for their children.

Q: You mentioned the workforce and the importance of bringing women along. What can you share with us on how we upskill the workforce?

A: There is need for training or building of capacity for women across the value chain. Women need that training in the design, installation, and implementation of systems, as well training in the finance sector and project management. I believe across the board, women need that training especially because of this perception some people may have when it concerns gender mainstreaming. They will assume that what we’re asking for is to put women without experience or capacity in various positions that they’re not qualified for. That’s not what gender mainstreaming is, it’s about ensuring that you have the best hands taking up these jobs.

Q: Women aren’t the only group whose voice at the table has gone without equitable representation regarding climate solutions. How critical do you think it is to involve the youth?

A: At the end of the day, they’re the ones that are likely to be impacted by the efforts or lack thereof, as it concerns climate change and energy transition. If the youth are carried along from the beginning, they’re likely to be advocates themselves, but also be part of the process in implementing these projects and ensuring that these projects are sustainable.

Q: You’ve worked in the private sector. Are there any policies that might need to be developed and implemented to support advancing gender inclusion strategies in the private sector?

A: Number one, data. Number two, legal framework. Number three, political will, and four, I would say providing access to finance as well. Governments can develop projects that provide for grant subsidies. Private sector companies can find counterpart funding with the grant subsidies toward derisking off-grid projects and making them more viable for private sector companies, as well as provide low interest loans. In Nigeria, through the Solar Power Naija program, single digit interest loans are being provided to private sector companies.

Q: The Energy Transition Academy is centered around people, and part of our work is leveraging stories from the communities we work with to communicate how critical the work is. RMI also recently acquired the WIRE Network of over 570 women. How do you think we could get our points across while remaining people-centric?

A: Kudos to RMI for taking that bold step and being a leader or demonstrating leadership as it concerns gender mainstreaming, that’s just absolutely fantastic! A lot more leading organizations like RMI need to take such bold steps to ensure gender inclusion and gender equity. I believe it’s critical to get your members to communicate the importance of gender inclusion when they’re developing initiatives and projects, and ensure that women are benefiting from the outcomes of the programs and that enough women are being engaged by the organization that they’re working for.