When looking at renewable energy cooperatives (REC) we see a strong difference between men and women participating, although studies find that stronger female participation would bear many advantages. Women invest less in RECs and are underrepresented in (board) membership and active participation. People participating in European RECs are a very homogenous group: male, retired, high income, high electricity consumption, and high educational level. The reasons for the low participation of women in RECs are associated with:
Unfortunately, no data is available on the role and participation of gender-diverse people, which reflects problems of gender data gaps and strongly calls for further research.
Research on members and shareholders of RECs shows that women are highly underrepresented as members, for smaller RECs (n<40 members) the imbalance was even more prominent with only 7% female members. Only Spain and Portugal with 40% male staff and half of the management being female are exceptions. In Denmark, men had a 10% greater willingness to invest in wind farms (Johansen and Emborg, 2018) and in Germany, men were 1.3 times more likely than women to participate in public energy projects (Ernst and Shamon, 2020).
The most common explanation given by studies to explain the female absence in participation at RECs was the underrepresentation of women in the energy sector and the gender imbalances in STEM fields (Drewing and Glanz, 2020; Fraune, 2015; Łapniewska, 2019a; Lazoroska et al., 2021; Mort, 2019). Women’s risk aversion is given as the second most common explanation for their absence in RECs. Johansen and Emborg (2018) explain the lack of female willingness to invest in Danish wind parks to their risk aversion and Fraune (2015) and Karl et al. (2021) show that women are more likely to get involved in RECs with legal structures reducing personal liability. The founding of RECs as well as the recruitment of new members and active participants are the third most observed explanation for gender disparities in RECs. A lot of the recruitment of new members for RECs is tied to personal contacts, via-via contacts and information stands (Fraune, 2015; Karl et al., 2021), leading to further homogenization of the membership base.
Ranking fourth, multiple studies find the lack of knowledge or willingness to include women in RECs to be critical for women abstaining to join RECs (Fraune, 2015). Among EU and German RECs the vast majority do not mention the issue of gender imbalance among their members and are not planning any activities to recruit women (Campos and Marín-González, 2020; Karl et al., 2021). Gender equality was not even among the shared values of the initiatives, except for some RECs in Spain, who had feminism as one of their core values (Campos and Marín-González, 2020). In Sweden, the naïve assumption that RECs are open to everyone is leading to solar RECs neglecting to address the diversity of their members entirely (Lazoroska et al., 2021). The few women involved in RECs are experiencing pressure to justify their participation (Drewing and Glanz, 2020).
Two of the reviewed studies also name lack of time as a reason for women to participate less in REC (Drewing and Glanz, 2020; Karl et al., 2021). Fraune (2015) refers to the gender wealth gap as one of the reasons for absent female investment in RECs due to a lack of financial resources. The reasons given for gender imbalances of RECs in Germany differ between men and women (Karl et al., 2021). Women’s most common reasons are lack of financial resources, lack of openness of RECs for women, and lack of time. While men also mention the lack of openness of REC as a major reason, the second most common assumption is that RECs are too technical for women, which is much less echoed by female respondents.
A lot of research has come up with recommendations for RECs to diversify. In order to make participation in RECs fair and open, RECs should specifically reach out to marginalized groups (Haf and Robinson, 2020; Horstink et al., 2020). One successful way of doing that, specifically tackling gender imbalances, is recruiting women through existing female members and female role models (Fraune, 2015; Karl et al., 2021; Łapniewska, 2019b, 2019a; Lazoroska et al., 2021). More broadly addressing the issue, Łapniewska (2019a) suggests for RECs to follow a less technical outreach, use gender mainstreaming, gender training and sharing best practice ideas for recruiting women.
Involving more women in RECs bears advantages (Mort, 2019). Gender just renewable energy projects leave a larger positive impact and are more effective (WECF and BBEn, 2020). In Mexico and the USA, women’s participation in energy projects leads to increased autonomy (Buechler et al., 2020). WECF and ZEZ (2018) even find a connection between women’s involvement in RECs and energy poverty reduction and rural development, as well as the potential of RECs to advance a gender just energy policy. The concept of intersectionality goes beyond looking at individual groups excluded in the energy transition but tries to address societal discrimination patterns and how they intersect with each other (Castán Broto and Neves Alves, 2018). Energy projects and RECs alone are not able to bring about gender and social equity as they fail to address structural dynamics (Johnson et al., 2020). RECs that do not specifically address intersecting discriminations are in danger of merely shifting inequalities or worse, replicating and manifesting them (Johnson et al., 2020).
Research on the electricity-gender-entrepreneurship nexus showed that it cannot be understood out of context as contextual factors (e.g., social, cultural and political context) can enable women through empowerment to be involved in male-dominated spheres or they can exclusive in less progressive contexts. This is relevant when one aims to design sustainable electricity in a gender-sensitive manner (Osunmuyiwa and Ahlborg, 2019).
Author: Farina Hoffmann (GenderCC- Women for Climate Justice e.V.)
GenderCC- Women for Climate Justice e.V.