Pacific Women in Energy Conference: Welcome address by Mereseini Rakuita, SPC's Principal Strategic Lead – Pacific Women

Monday, 10 Oct 2022

Welcome address by Mereseini Rakuita, Principal Strategic Lead – Pacific Women, SPC

Pacific Women in Energy Conference

Suva, Fiji 5 October 2022

 

Participants of SPC member countries and territories

Ms Laura Lochman, Deputy Assistant Secretary, The Bureau of Energy Resources, US Department of State

Representatives of the US Department of State, Representatives of the US Embassy in Suva and Representative from IUCN

Representatives of non-governmental organisations, tertiary institutions, regional organisations, development organisations and private energy sector

SPC colleagues and friends

Bula Vinaka, good morning, and good evening to our friends joining from the other parts of the energy global community

As Principal Strategic Lead of SPC’s Gender Flagship program part of my task is to mainstream gender into SPC’s core business across of all its Divisions.  The Pacific Energy and Gender Network Strategic Action Plan or PEGSAP which was officially launched yesterday is one such mainstreaming tool that forms the platform for mainstreaming gender through the work of the Geoscience Energy and Maritime Division of SPC into the regional energy sector.

Gender equality and access to energy, particularly renewable, sustainable, clean energy are linked in multiple ways.

60% of the Pacific still does not have access to electricity…I woke up this morning and prepared my 6 year old son for school.  I switched on the light.  I helped him regulate the water temperature for a warm shower. I turned on the electric kettle for a hot cuppa. I turned on the stove to cook porridge.  Got the butter and meat out of the fridge for sandwiches.  Then I sat down and thought about the many other parents out there and in particular women as primary caregivers whose daily-prep-for-school-journey may not be as easy as mine mainly because I had access to electricity. I thought about women in rural areas who may be using kerosene lanterns for light; firewood and kerosene or charcoal for cooking; children who study without proper lighting and bathing in icy cold water at the break of dawn in preparation for school; the time and health burden of these activities could be greatly reduced by enhancing access to clean energy in households. 

The types of fuels used for cooking can have significant impacts on health, particularly respiratory health, and safety of household members, particularly women and children, who are typically in charge of cooking and spend more time at home. The use of fuels such as firewood or fodder, in addition, impinge on women’s and even children’s time, as they are often in charge of fuel fetching as well. 

Climate change has necessitated a system reset – it has also provided an unequalled opportunity to effectively weave gender into the new system we are building towards. And that’s what we are striving to do here in the regional energy sector through PEGSAP.  We are effectively recognising that the work towards the attainment of clean energy in the region must be gender-responsive.  It must recognise and address the gendered nature of access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.  

During the 51st Pacific Islands Forum, our Pacific Leaders announced a collective aim to achieve carbon neutrality in the Pacific by 2050. Given such ambitious clean energy targets, the Pacific region is undergoing a clean energy transition that will result in abundant economic benefits. The estimates of what is required is in the vicinity of US$3 billion in order to meet the region’s renewable energy targets.

This transition toward clean energy offers an opportunity for more women to be employed in sustainable and high productive jobs that will change the face of the region.

To make this happen, we must ensure that women play a key role in developing PICTs renewable energy sector by bringing them to the table and listening to their voices.

However, ensuring that women have a "seat at the table" as decision makers and key actors at all levels quires establishing the right conditions and equipping women with the necessary tools to enter and become active participants in the clean energy sector, from the executive management level all the way down to customers at the community level. 

Women are still grossly underrepresented in the energy sector.  At the global level, the proportion of women working in the renewable energy sector is still low at 28%. Similarly, across the Pacific, women’s representation in key areas – including energy-related government positions, employment in the utilities sector and other energy-related sectors, and in energy-related education programmes – remains alarmingly low.

The data collected from the National Energy Offices shows that women make up 22.4% of the total number of staff. While they represent only 12.1% and 15.5% of management and technical positions, they make up 51.5% of the administrative and support staff.

Interviews with utility representatives conducted for gender-based assessment in 2020, found that this low-female representation in the energy sector is linked to restrictive norms, legal and structural barriers that reinforces gender stereotypes and occupation segregation. Women are pushed into administrative roles, where women are considered to be better at these positions than technical ones.

Conservative gender stereotypes related to personal development and professions are strongly ingrained in the Pacific society. Family culture and values are a conveyor of stereotypes and a strong influence on what youths choose as university programs or professions.

This results in female students only comprising around 20% of all university students enrolled in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programs at the regional level and being virtually absent from technical and vocational education and training (TVET) programs related to energy.

THIS CONFERENCE --- will give us a reminder of the structural barriers that prevent women from engaging actively and meaningfully in the clean energy sector.  Our expert panelists are leaders and change makers in their area of practice. I am looking forward to listening to them sharing practical experiences and lessons from their work in various critical areas.

The Conference aspires to form a REGIONAL STEERING COMMITTEE.  It is critical that we foster collaboration among member countries and development partners because partnership will bring significant benefits to sharing and combining our resources to leverage our voice, influence, and competitiveness, and to overcome geographical and demographic disadvantages, increase market opportunities, improve service delivery, and ensure good governance for Pacific people.

To ensure sustainable and equitable outcomes in renewable energy, we must go beyond just inclusion in energy activities and services and seek to be transformative in our approaches. This requires addressing fundamental barriers to gender equality and what these transformative approaches look like in the respective institutions, business utilities, communities, and individuals.

So, in order to get to that stage where women have a “seat at the table" as decision makers and key actors within the sector at all levels, there are a number of things that we have to do. Because it’s all well and good for us to invite women to sit at the table, but if we don’t create the conditions that would lead them to that place whether through evidence-based policymaking, education, capacity building, financing, then having a seat at the table will remain an illusion. We need to build the architecture leading up to that point, we need to work collectively, and we need the full participation of all stakeholders – from governments and policy makers to financiers and the renewable energy businesses themselves.

And that ladies and gentlemen is the work we have cut out for ourselves through the PEGSAP.  SPC has put its hand up in supporting this great piece of work for our regional members.  We are grateful for the support thus far from development partners.  This is only the beginning.  We look forward to further collaborating and pooling our resources together to bring about transformational change in the lives of Pacific people whilst aspiring towards a carbon neutral Blue Pacific by 2050.

Vinaka Vakalevu.

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