Breaking down gender disparities in the energy industry.
According to a 2019 IRENA study, women represent only 32% of the renewable energy sector and 22% of the oil and gas industry. The same study reveals that, on average, only one-third of senior management positions are occupied by women. These bleak trends and numbers are just some examples of the many gender disparities that are still prevalent within the energy sector. They are evidence of the significant barriers women still face within the energy field.
Gender (in)equality in energy cooperatives
What goes for the overall energy sector, is unfortunately also true for the community energy sector. Within these citizen-led initiatives, too, despite the progress made, a gender gap still exists concerning female participation, average ownership rate, visibility, and representation in management positions. Moreover, energy communities often struggle to attract female members, especially women from vulnerable groups. Addressing gender gaps within the energy sector will be crucial in tackling energy poverty, a phenomenon that disproportionately affects women.
In recent years, however, energy cooperatives have increased their efforts to close the gender gap within the energy sector. In line with this, REScoop.eu has signed the Charter of Commitment on Equality between Women and Men in Cooperatives by Cooperatives Europe:
Cooperatives provide decent employment and help reduce inequalities that affect the most vulnerable people, including women. The equality between women and men and for all is at the core of the cooperative identity and as well as of the European Union.
The power of gender
Gender-just energy communities increase social acceptance and trust, tend to be more effective and have a broader scope of activities. Involving people of all genders in the energy transition means that more expertise and capacity becomes available, something that is needed for the transformation of our energy system. In fact, a gender perspective on the energy transition offers the opportunity to develop a socially-just energy sector that is free from any form of oppression related to race, age, class, ethnicity, nationality, abilities, and global North/South divide. Gender-just energy communities help reduce emissions while addressing inequality through job creation and improved access to energy.
An inspiring example
The example of Troya Energy Cooperative is an inspiring story about the power of women in the energy sector. It is a story of hope in a country where women’s rights are currently at stake amidst a tumultuous public and political debate.
Troya Energy Cooperative was established in May 2017 in the north of the Çanakkale province in Turkey. Back in 2009 common concerns over the changing climate led to the establishment of the Troya Environment Association. The aim of the Association was to strengthen local communities in climate protection activities. The impetus was plans to establish 13 coal-fired thermal power plants in the region.
As the local communities were looking for ways to protect their local environment against these plans, the concept of a renewable energy cooperative caught their attention. At that time, no such initiatives existed in Turkey, but examples from Europe inspired them to research the possibility of producing their own green and sustainable energy and establishing their own renewable energy cooperative.
A legislative boost
In March 2016, thanks to the unwavering commitment of community energy advocates, not least the three women who would later form the board of directors of Troya Cooperative, the concept of renewable energy cooperative was introduced into Turkish law. This created promising perspectives for citizens who wanted to take matters into their own hands. That same year, the Troya Association started organizing international conferences on energy cooperatives, inviting guests and experts from all over Europe. The aim of these conferences was and is to develop and strengthen the community energy movement across Turkey and Eastern Europe. Strikingly, over the years, half of all participants were women, even though women in Turkey are still highly underrepresented in the energy sector compared to other economic sectors.
This brings us back to May 2017. Eight members of the Association not only founded the first energy cooperative in Turkey, but also placed women at the center stage. Oral Kaya, general manager of Troya, emphasizes the importance of women’s participation in their cooperative and beyond:
Not only does our entire board consist of women, 57% of our cooperative members are women. We want to set an example and inspire (Turkish) women to become part of the energy transition. We hope that the women in our cooperative, as change agents, can open doors for women participation in other sectors of the economy as well.
Energetic Women of the Year
On International Women’s Day 2020, the Turkish Association of Energy Economics awarded the board of directors of Troya Cooperative as ‘Energetic Women of the Year’. They were applauded for their role in bringing about the 2016 legislative changes and their continued efforts to support the movement and empowering other women to become active participants in the transition towards a sustainable future.
A bumpy road
Unfortunately, the path towards a sustainable and just future is never free of obstacles. In 2019, plans were being finalized to kick off the cooperatives’ first solar park. However, legislation changed again, leading to the cancellation of the project and disrupting the plan to become their own renewable energy producer. Only a handful of community initiatives managed to complete their renewable energy project before the amendment. However, many other Turkish energy cooperatives, including Troya, can only keep on fighting. Despite the drawback, the cooperative keeps on avidly promoting the use of renewable energy and advocating for the empowerment of women in the energy sector.
The path towards a gender-just energy transition
REScoop.eu, the European federation of citizen energy cooperatives, a growing network of 1900 cooperatives and their 1,250,000 citizens who are active in the energy transition is committed to strengthen and coordinate the network’s activities in closing the gender gap in the energy transition.
Energy communities from all over Europe share the vision for a future where “women are deeply involved in their local energy communities and actively contribute to the development of decentralized citizen-centered renewables systems”. A future in which “more female faces supporting the mission and day-to-day operations of renewable energy cooperatives will become visible”, and in which the sector will go beyond the issue of representation, and be able to consider, evaluate, and “benefit from the specific added value of women”.
The gender-just energy transition will only succeed if citizens and their communities are involved.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not (necessarily) reflect REVOLVE's editorial stance.