By Elenoa Dimaira 

A regional effort to increase Pacific’s women participation in the male dominated energy sector was launched Thursday by the Pacific Power Association and the World Bank in a side event of the 5th Pacific Regional Energy and Transport Ministers Meeting in Port Vila, Vanuatu.

The programme, Pacific Women in Power, aims to improve and enhance women’s employment and economic empowerment across various Pacific Island energy institutions including ministries, utilities and the private sector.

Vanuatu’s Minister for Climate Change and Energy, Ralph Regenvanu welcomed the programme and emphasised the importance of having women participating in the energy sector, particularly in management.

“In our communities, from household level up, women are always the managers and so they need to be encouraged and trained on energy technologies, and also the management aspects of energy,” Regenvanu said.

“In fact, as a government, we recognise that where women are involved in institutions’ management committees, such as in our water sector where policy and legislation were enacted to support women in leadership, that entity is better managed. I believe we will find this to be the same for the energy sector and welcome this initiative by the World Bank.”

In collaboration with the Pacific Community (SPC), the programme will support the increase of women’s employment as engineers, scientists and leaders in the energy sector.

“We know that increasing women’s employment in energy, a traditionally male dominated sector, is good for business,”

Helle Buchhave, Global Gender Lead with the Social Inclusion Practice of the World Bank, said. “Globally, we see that promoting a gender diverse workforce has resulted in better employee retention, better financial performance, greater innovation, improved service delivery and safer operating environment.”

Participants at the 5th Pacific Regional Energy and Transport Ministers Meeting in Port Vila, Vanuatu. Photo: Elenoa Dimaira

The World Bank estimates that in the long run, GDP per capita would be around 22 percent higher for Pacific islands if employment rates for women were to match men. Pacific Women in Power will also align with SPC’s Pacific Energy and Gender Strategic Action Plan (PEGSAP – 2020-2030) to mainstream gender in the clean energy sector and to address gender imbalance.

“SPC is greatly encouraged that the Pacific Women in Power Programme aligns with the objectives of PEGSAP, as the endorsed blueprint for empowering women in the energy sector,” Mereseini Rakuita, SPC’s Principal Strategic Lead – Pacific Women and Girls, said.

“SPC, as the Secretariat to the Pacific Energy Gender Initiative (PEGI) Regional Steering Committee, which has oversight of the implementation of PEGSAP, looks forward to ongoing and close collaboration with the Word Bank and PPA. This collaboration is key, as it will ensure national ownership and sustainability of such initiatives beyond the life of projects.”

The Pacific Women in Power Programme will complement the Pacific Power Association’s mission to support its energy utility members to promote and advance gender equality within a diverse and motivated workforce.

“Expanding and modernising the energy sector is vital since the limited availability of energy constrains human and economic development,” PPA Acting Executive Director, Gordon Chang said.

“The PPA believes that the investments being made in energy, and increasingly in renewable energy in the Pacific, can be a springboard for promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment. The Pacific Women in Power Program is a groundbreaking initiative to support our efforts in this area.”

In the Pacific, less than a quarter of the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) workforce is female.

“Under the Pacific Women in Power Programme, the World Bank will be gathering data and helping energy institutions design and invest in future and current innovations, partnerships and policies to increase women’s participation in the energy sector,” Buchhave explained.
“The Programme will also provide the opportunity to exchange with peers in other regions who also target a more gender diverse energy workforce.”

“We want this programme to have some really practical outcomes to help shift the dial in the Pacific energy sector to enhance equality for women,” Buchhave added.