Bringing Gender Equity into Hydropower Development from the Start
In Lao People’s Democratic Republic, gender equity is key to national development. Since the economic reforms of the 1980s, women have experienced positive changes on many fronts, including more economic participation and a narrowing of gender gaps in school enrollments. But there is still work to be done to ensure that opportunities progress at an equitable pace for women and men alike.
Lao PDR’s development also relies on the sustainable exploitation of hydropower. With more than 80 percent of the country’s hydropower potential untapped, the sector is developing rapidly. As many of these projects are only in the planning phase, the time is ripe to integrate gender-equity planning from the start.
A Better Approach to Hydropower Development
In the project planning phase of hydropower development, women are especially vulnerable when gender sensitivities are ignored. These vulnerabilities range from housing relocation, access to land for livelihoods, and food security. Gender-sensitive planning, or planning that responds to gender differences and identifies opportunities and needs, can help reduce women’s vulnerability and at the same time increase project sustainability. Gender-sensitive planning may include public consultations with women to better understand power dynamics, and assessing sex-disaggregated data to develop a gendered project baseline.
IFC’s 8 Performance Standards provide guidance to companies on how to better manage their environmental and social risk. This includes insights into how to engage affected communities and other stakeholders throughout the entire project cycle. Women affected by hydropower development may also benefit from developers adhering to the standards, as they promote equitable project planning and implementation.
Developers that follow these standards from early in the project cycle benefit from improved management strategies that help offset risk. If the standards are applied from the start, hydropower projects will achieve good international and industry practice standards.
“Gender considerations should start at the feasibility phase. Before a project begins, developers should have a clear understanding of how benefit-sharing and equity between genders can be achieved, and how it will add value to their work,” said Kate Lazarus, IFC Senior Operations Officer, Lao country office in Vientiane. “By applying IFC’s Performance Standards, there’s a greater chance women will take a more active role in the hydropower sector.”
Creating Opportunities for Women in Hydropower
Gender-inclusive planning not only has an impact on project sustainability, it could also pave the way toward better job opportunities for women.
“Women can undoubtedly benefit from employment opportunities in the hydropower sector,” said Richard Record, Senior Economic and Country Gender Focal Point for the World Bank office in Vientiane. “Yet, there are still social stigmas holding them back. There is a misunderstanding that women do not work in the sector. Furthermore, the stereotype that women should not work in hydropower persists.”
Labelled as ‘a man’s job’, women comprise less than one percent of the hydropower workforce. The challenge now is to consider how gender-inclusive planning can provide job opportunities for women throughout the entire project life-cycle.
Making the Case for Gender-inclusive Planning
Similarly to hydropower, construction is a sector where women rarely take the lead. Odebrecht Infrastructure, a global construction company based in Brazil, has proven that investing in gender-inclusive planning from the start can have a positive impact on business.
In 2011, the company’s gross revenue increased 31.7 percent to $37 billion after expanding its portfolio to include bio-energy, environmental engineering, and technology. To accommodate this growth, the company expanded its operations and needed to quickly employ a large number of workers. The expansion presented further challenges as the new workers would be stationed in remote locations.
To encourage applications from women, the company launched a technical training program in construction skills. The technical training taught women recruits the skills they needed to become masons, carpenters, riggers, welders, or equipment operators – all jobs traditionally reserved for men.
The company’s gender-inclusive recruitment plans created a larger pool of candidates, resulting in a more vibrant and competitive workplace at Odebrecht.
“We’ve built infrastructure that provides access to roads, markets, and electricity, which women benefit from,” said Record. “Now we need to push for a labor-intensive growth strategy and continue to improve mainstreaming in infrastructure investments and female participation in all sectors, including hydropower operations.”