Ms Latif is a development worker with focused interest on participatory governance and social inclusion.
There is a considerable energy divide in the world—between rich and poor countries; within countries, with the rich benefiting the most from energy resources; between urban and rural areas; and even men and women, within households. In Pakistan energy is a politically charged and sensitive issue which is closely linked with the country’s economy and development. Currently, 56 million (approx.) people still lack access to grid electricity and unfortunately, Pakistan ranks 115th among 137 economies without reliable energy sources due to which business losses amount to $8.4 billion. Connecting all of Pakistan’s population to the grid can increase the supply of electricity to 24 hours a day, which will increase the total household income by at least $4.5 billion a year, and will eventually increase national productivity.
Pakistan’s energy sector remains ‘gender-blind’ as policy bodies and electric utilities focus exclusively on energy provision, neglecting energy use and its differential impacts (in terms of quality and equity). Gender differences are perceived only in terms of the use of energy services, and not in terms of access to energy, which is presumed to benefit all household members equally – which is not the case.
Women have multiple burdens to carry and there is plenty of evidence that indicates women are found to be more “resource-poor”, especially for “time” than men whether employed or not. This is due to women-specific activities that they have to perform irrespective of their employment status. The absence of energy resources affects women differently and more severely than men because they are responsible for caregiving, household chores, fetching fuel and water for their households as well as engaging in various types of microenterprises. Since the burden of providing energy to fulfil their household needs fall disproportionately on women who spend a significant amount of their time and effort in collecting fuel or arranging alternative sources of energy, the opportunity cost is high for them as it takes them away from employment, education, and other activities of self-improvement thus compromising their well-being. Furthermore, continued dependence on traditional biomass has detrimental effects on women’s health through indoor air pollution caused by smoke and unhealthy workplaces.
Equal gender participation and women’s inclusion is not addressed at the policy level, leading to exclusion of women’s energy needs from the policies and decision-making. Pakistan’s energy sector remains ‘gender-blind’, regarding the provision of equal employment opportunities both for men and women. According to a 2018 baseline study conducted by Women in Energy Network of Pakistan, women make up only about 4 per cent of the total staff of 9 power utilities (both public and private distribution, transmission and generation companies) in Pakistan. Against the total number of engineers recruited, women are only 4 per cent; whereas female students make up to 25 per cent of the total enrolled students in BSc/MSc levels. Women employees make up only 3 per cent of technical positions in the 3 Independent Power Producers. WAPDA has 6 per cent female employees, with only 3.3 per cent in technical positions. In power distribution companies, women make up only 2 per cent of the total employees.
In a country with a population of 220 million, women constitute 49 per cent of the population and ironically their participation in the labour force has declined two percentage points since 2015. According to the Labour Force Survey (LFS) of 2018 carried out by the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, Labour Force Participation Rate (LFPR) for men (81 per cent) is more than three and a half times higher than for women (23 per cent). The gender gap in Labour Force Participation Rate (LFPR) is one of the world’s highest for Pakistan. This noticeable gender inequality and under-representation of women in economic activities is because of the socially constructed gender roles that place men in productive roles. The economy and market especially the energy sector are shaped by gender norms, ideologies and power relations. While dynamics vary across contexts, gender inequalities– often influenced by intersecting social relations, including class, ethnicity, generation etc., shape the nature and extent of women’s and men’s participation.
Pakistan’s constitution prohibits discrimination by every means but still, there are many structural mechanisms, structures and processes that allow inequality. Persistent gender inequality in policy-making, low rates of women in leadership positions, the alarmingly low female ratio in secondary and higher education, as well as gender stereotypes in the labour market and discriminatory social constructs contribute to restricting equal access and opportunities to women and girls. These, coupled with the non-availability of gender-segregated data, severely underestimate the particular needs of women and restrict their fair participation in the economy. Without the inclusion of women in the labour force by addressing their energy needs, the dream of having a skilled, empowered, and equal workforce seems to be a distant possibility.