Although Benin is making great efforts to meet its growing energy needs, the African country still has to import much of the electricity it needs. Moreover, only one in three households is electrified, and in rural areas the electrification rate is barely seven percent. There, women in particular suffer from the health impacts of this energy poverty because they have to cook over open fires, spend many unproductive hours searching for firewood, and suffer particularly from respiratory and eye diseases due to the toxic smoke. So although women are disproportionately affected, they are underrepresented in decision-making bodies in the energy industry and government institutions. The same is true in technical courses, where women make up only 20 to 35 percent of students. Their influence on decisions is therefore too small.
The Ministry of Energy’s Gender and Development Unit (CGD) aims to increase the visibility of women’s expertise in engineering professions and accelerate gender equality in the energy sector. To this end, the CGD will position eight female engineers, qualified in the field of renewable energy, in key positions in the ministry as well as in the energy sector. In the first phase, they will complete a twelve-month paid internship with CGD. They will also receive intensive support from mentors. The goal is for these women to be hired into key positions in the energy sector at the end of the internship, becoming well-qualified engineers and positive ambassadors among their ranks in the Benin corps of engineers, and inspiring other women in Benin.
The Cellule Genre et Développement du Ministère de l’Energie (CGD) is tasked with developing both a gender strategy and an action plan. It also ensures that the gender approach is incorporated into and implemented in programs and projects. CGD will supervise the eight women engineers and ensure their integration in the various departments and institutions. CGD staff have identified key institutions for the project, such as the renewable energy unit in the Ministry of Energy, the Agency for Rural Electrification and Energy Management (ABERME), and the Electricity Regulatory Authority (ARE).
The project aims to integrate the eight selected women engineers into institutions that have a key role in the energy sector. Both engineering and the civil service are highly regarded in Benin. By having more women in these key positions, they can overcome prejudices and, above all, have a say in strategy and planned projects. In the weekly meetings with their mentors, they not only gain relevant theoretical and practical know-how, but also a considerable boost in value. It is important to the project that other women and girls benefit from the experiences of the eight female engineers. For this reason, the project organizes exchanges in parallel to the internship, in which the female engineers discuss career paths, obstacles and solutions with female pupils and students.