Globally, women comprise about 19-20 percent of the hydropower workforce. Conventionally a ‘man’s sector’, hydropower planning often lags behind when it comes to addressing gender issues including safe and equitable work environment for women on site. Last month, hydropower professionals from around Asia participated in an intensive course on how to improve gender parity in hydropower, and subsequently, increase project sustainability and long-term opportunities for women. Co-convened by IFC and the International Centre for Hydropower (ICH), the week-long course was one of IFC’s many initiatives to improve gender equity in the hydropower sector.
“Prior to this training, I was unaware of the difference between ‘gender’ and ‘sex.' By the time I completed the course, I learnt to view the world from a gender perspective,” said Rubal Budhathoki, a hydropower professional from Nepal. He added, “In Nepal, women’s presence on hydropower sites is rare. But, proper security and appropriate facilities may assure women, and encourage them to take up non-traditional jobs.”
Umesh Pathak, environmental specialist from the Sanjen Hydroelectric Project in Nepal, shared how his colleagues were sceptical when he decided to join this course. He said, “Now I can help clear their misconceptions about women being physically weaker or lesser performers in the hydropower workspace. This course helps me understand why we need to be gender sensitive in Nepal.”
As the course presented, the economic benefits of gender parity are significant. A 2015 report by McKinsey Global Institute stated that bridging the gender divide in the workplace could generate $28 trillion of additional GDP globally by 2025. This is equivalent to the combined economies of United States and China today. Additionally, economists have documented that key drivers in the growth of the developed nations — in the latter half of the 20th century — were the higher education levels achieved by women and their contribution to the labor force. A similar trend can be attributed to Latin America’s recent growth, which reaffirms that gender equity in the workplace is beneficial for emerging economies.
In Nepal, despite efforts to strengthen policy, institutional frameworks, and legislation to reduce cases of discrimination and inequality, 60 percent of women are reported to be self-employed or engaged in informal labor. In many cases, self-employment for women translates into unpaid family work, which is why women own fewer assets, and are unable to access financing. Pathak believes that if more women work on hydropower sites, there would be more formal employment opportunities. It will also help reduce and solve gender-based conflicts. However, improved working conditions and security on site are prerequisites to ensure increased women employees.
Budhathoki agrees that security for women on site would improve diversity: “Women engineers are involved with hydropower projects, but most of them work at our head office. We must ensure a secure workplace, and equal payment to incentivize women working on sites.”
Improving security on sites is one practical measure to create employment opportunities for women. Bandana Shrestra, hydropower engineer from Nepal, shared her thoughts to say, “Ideally, my organization should prepare a Gender Action Plan, and work through it at various stages of the project cycle.” She added, “As senior officials working here have limited understanding of how provisions and laws that promote women’s participation in the workforce ensure equality and prevent gender bias, this could be beneficial for improved organizational performance.”
At the end of the course, participants left with an understanding of the importance and benefits of achieving a more equitable and safe workplace for women working in the hydropower sector. With greater awareness of the needs and experiences that women may have in the workplace — and to get more women working on site — other benefits should include retention incentives, women-friendly shift schedules, child-care facilities, and opportunities for women in leadership roles.
For more information on IFC's work to advance gender equity in hydropower, visit: www.ifc.org/hydroadvisory