Area of expertise: What parliament needs to know for effective policy-making on gender and energy
Keeping informed: what parliament needs to know
Parliamentarians give voice to the questions and concerns of citizens. As people’s representatives, they are tasked to ensure that the laws and budgets they pass respond to the most pressing needs and opportunities on the ground. Parliament also holds the ‘power of the purse’. Its ultimate control of state finances allows it to review, challenge and scrutinise the resources the government is dedicating to specific policies and projects. Critically, it also monitors how the government spends these resources.
Timely access to accurate and relevant information by parliamentarians and parliamentary staff is crucial to all these tasks. This is especially the case for energy policies which require a good deal of technical expertise and a thorough understanding of the social and economic context in which they are implemented. Analysing energy policies and projects is challenging seeing that each stage – from prioritising areas for intervention, evaluating the impact and tracking progress against objectives, requires a different data set and metrics which are specific to the target sector and population.
MPs can only assess the quality of the draft legislation or budget before them if they have access to a full and fair picture. Similarly, they cannot consider to what extent implementation of those policies has been successful without regular and accurate progress updates. They cannot know everything. The information they have access to affects their decision-making capacity. Such limits to skills and knowledge open up opportunities for outsiders to feed in to the parliamentary process.
As energy policy decisions have implications for equality between women and men. Decisions related to, for instance, new investments, energy access and availability of supply, tariffs and pricing, new infrastructure projects, community participation strategies or energy-related environmental problem all raise gender equality issues relating to social impact, employment possibilities, access to opportunities and even health. It is therefore important for parliamentary committees to consider potential gender impacts on the basis of relevant and reliable information.
Data provided by agencies that support parliament and government in their work – such as audit institutions and national statistical agencies, for example - should be accurate, timely and disaggregated, distinguishing between men and women, boys and girls. Baseline surveys for energy policies and projects should be based on such data to account for their possible gendered impacts. Similarly, indicators and benchmarks used in policy evaluations and impact assessments should be gender-sensitive: agencies should be carrying out gender-specific analysis of both the demand and supply side. Without such data, parliament cannot ensure gender-responsive policy-making, oversight or budgeting.
Participatory approaches in data collection are one way of ensuring that the latter better reflects gender differences and points to the needs. While this is increasingly established practice in departments of agriculture and health, energy ministries do not (yet) adopt participatory approaches as commonly. One way for MPs to address this is by putting parliamentary questions for relevant government departments. Possible examples of such questions can be found in the Box 1 while additional details of the parliamentary question process is discussed in the Parliamentary Action Points section of this module. Box 2 provides an overview of issues which should be considered as part of gender analysis of energy policies.
What issues need to be addressed?
Their effectiveness hinges to no small degree on the data on which they are based. Examples of some of the questions Parliamentarians could raise examining policies are:
- What are the key objectives of the proposed legislation?
- Are the instruments used to reach these objectives the most cost-effective ones?
- Were impact analyses of the policy in question and baseline surveys for such analyses based on sex-disaggregated data?
- What impact is this legislation likely to have from a social, environmental, financial, fiscal and - of course - gender point of view?
Which groups are likely to be affected by the proposed legislation?
- May it discriminate against women or men?
- Is the impact likely to differ across social groups? If so, should the differences be measured? Is there enough disaggregated data available for such measurements?
Who was consulted - sectoral specialists, independent experts, civil society groups - and how were their views taken into account?
- Were gender experts and activists consulted?
- What are the likely mid-term and longer-term implications of this legislation for the budget, and through what funding sources is it being financed?
- What are the compliance and administrative costs associated with the proposed policy? Are they likely to affect women and men differently?
Gender Analysis of Energy Policies
Demand-side gender analysis: What are the gender gaps, gender-differentiated opportunities and constraints for women and men as users, customers, beneficiaries, and affected people with respect to:
- energy access, use, and needs for improvement and new technology;
- customer satisfaction;
- user knowledge;
- capacity to capture improved energy services (e.g., participation in decision making, opportunity and skills for energy-based livelihood and employment); and
- possible impact of proposed energy sector interventions (i.e., both gender benefits and gender risks/adverse impacts) and specific measures to address them.
Supply-side gender analysis: What are the gender gaps and gender-differentiated opportunities and constraints for women and men as service providers, in government, and project management in relation to:
- working environment of energy companies;
- institutional capacity and training needs; and
- representation in decision making through committees, board, or management.
Source: Gender Toolkit: Energy Going Beyond the Meter (Asian Development Bank)
Where parliament can get its information
Much of the information required can, in theory, be provided by the executive branch. However, the assumptions and assessments that guide new policies, and the progress reports on implementation and expenditure that should support oversight, are often slow to reach parliament. When they do, they can be inaccurate or insufficient: not every department has the means to carry out impact assessments, or to provide gender disaggregated data. In many countries, the availability, accessibility or intelligibility of information produced by Government is a persistent barrier to accountability and meaningful public participation.
To effectively exercise its oversight of the government’s energy policies and the corresponding spending, parliament has at its disposal a number of tools aimed at requesting information from the executive. These include, among others, parliamentary questions - oral and written, debates and interpellation. These are primary ways for parliamentarians to find out directly from the government how proposed legislation and budget will affect women in their society. They also help verify that gender mainstreaming has been among the objectives of a legislative proposal. For more information and to consult concrete examples, please see the parliamentary action points below.
Your political party
In democratic systems, parties serve a number of purposes. They cluster interests by engaging voters on various issues - both around and outside of elections - and by mobilising their support. They present voters with (ideally) a coherent set of policy platforms. Within the executive and legislative branch, they stir debate and determine the direction of public policy, securing resources and orienting the government around certain platforms.
Political parties also act as a two-way channel of information. They are a source of intelligence and a primary agent of communication, both within and outside of parliament. By scoping and aggregating interests among the electorate, political parties are well positioned to feed public inputs into the democratic process and organise MPs around particular policy issues. In doing so, they also help forge important links between citizens and their representatives in parliament.
Political party secretariats may also use their means to ensure that their MPs are well informed on key topics. In some parliaments, parties make available to legislators their in-house research and advisory capacity. They can employ research, expert and advisory staff and interns to feed into the work of MPs.
Parties can ensure that women expertise and perspectives - including in the field of energy, and climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies - are integrated in political debates and, in turn, policies, by increasing the direct participation of women in politics. To this end, parties can and should create strategies targeting the inclusion of women MPs. Bringing in female MPs sends a strong statement of the national will to enhance women participation. Driven by electoral competition, many parties tend to adopt a conservative approach whereby they favour candidates who have traditionally won election, namely older men with a strong political or business record. In countries where women are by and large excluded from energy decision-making and thus less likely to build up the credentials and professional track record, they are disadvantaged from the start when competing for a nomination in elections. By the same token, not only should such inclusion strategies address the disparities between the number of men and women entering the parliament but also taking on leadership positions in specialised standing and ad hoc committee on the so called “hard” portfolio areas, such as energy.
In most parliaments, committees chaired by women tend to deal with the “soft” issues, such as education or women. With the process of appointing MPs to committees largely determined by parties, the latter can and should be the driver of change, matching their members’ skills, experience and preferences with areas of work. Affirmative action within parties, that is, giving preference to women over men MPs competing for leadership positions where qualifications are equal, is one tool of ensuring that women’s perspectives are part of committee work. Through dedicated trainings, parties can look to ensure that the responsibility for gender-mainstreaming efforts is shared between all their members, and not merely women MPs. Trainings can also target the skills of staff to an include a gender perspective in their analyses and outputs.
United Kingdom: Energy Bill Revolution Campaign
Parties can advocate on issues of importance to their members and voters. Factors such as a long history, broad-based support, extensive network of branches, resources, a combination of volunteers and paid professional staff and consultants, are what makes parties effective advocates and communicators relative to individual MPs or organisations with a more limited membership or support base. An example is the Energy Bill Revolution which was a three-year alliance campaign from 2012 to 2015. The aim was to raise public awareness about the UK’s cold home crisis and to develop support for our solution to make home energy efficiency an infrastructure investment priority. The aim of this solution is to accelerate investment into home energy efficiency to end fuel poverty, reduce carbon emissions at the scale and speed needed to combat climate change and to create green jobs.
The campaign was supported by hundreds of MPs from across the UK Parliament, by two Parliamentary Select Committees and a number of political parties including Green and Labour Party. Political party engagement helped the campaign achieve high levels of media coverage, helping to keep fuel poverty in the public eye.
As members of a committee, MPs can ask a broad range of groups and individuals, including public agencies, academics, or private organizations about their views on the effectiveness of government programmes and activities; universities, NGOs, faith-based organisations, traditional governance bodies, the private sector and the media, to access useful information and resources, to encourage the representation of a greater number of views, and to assist in analysing the legislation or budget in detail. Strong, formalised links of parliamentary committees with gender advocates and research institutes is an important way of ensuring that their information is up-to-date and accurate, and that it reflects the needs and the realities of all stakeholders, including in a gender-differentiated way. This is particularly important in countries where a switch to a more sustainable energy system coincides with transition towards a more democratic and socially equal society, where new energy infrastructures need to serve the needs and aspirations of all segments of society. In such context, the engagement of civil society is crucial for successful implementation of policies and deployment of projects to ensure consideration to local concerns and needs. Module 3 will discuss in more detail strategies for parliamentarians to engage with stakeholders.
Parliaments, Civil Society and Climate Change e-Learning course on AGORA
This course explores how parliaments can take more effective and responsive action on climate change by strengthening their engagement with civil society. Building on the many success stories and best practices shared on AGORA’s Climate Portal, the course highlights initiatives, strategies and new technologies that help parliamentarians connect with the people they represent. Aimed at parliaments and civil society, this course hopes to inspire stronger and more effective collaboration on climate action.
You can access the course here.
Academia and independent think tanks
Beyond that, MPs also need independent access to information, ideally provided by a parliament’s in-house research service. Many parliaments lack the resources and necessary research capacity. But much of this can be done, even with very limited resources. Reaching out to - and making use of analyses by - independent think tanks, civil society organisations, private sector and academia can go a long way towards plugging some of the gaps.
Hearings, either in plenary or committee meetings, are a primary tool of parliaments for obtaining information related to specific policies or issues. Nearly all parliaments conduct hearings. However, parliaments have varying capacities to compel individuals to give testimony. Parliamentary committees can organise a hearing with experts, where this is considered essential to their work on a particular subject. Hearings allow MPs to hear from experts and hold discussions on the key issues.
MPs can use the media to collect public feedback, publicise their findings, attract the public eye to a topic or place a discussion within a context. Traditional media like newspapers, radio and television can be easily approached by parliamentarians for publishing briefings or opinion pieces. Opinion polls and survey commissioned or published in the media can be an important source of public feedback. Stories by (investigative) journalists can bring issues to the parliament’s attention in a rapid and graphic way. It is thus essential that parliament build a strong professional relationship with the media.
Social media are fast becoming a potent tool to get messages across and receive public response at once. As people all over the world are now using outlets such as Facebook and Twitter, parliaments follow. Getting news items and articles about parliamentary work in the pipeline, events or report findings is an important way of reaching a broad range of stakeholders – from policy makers and implementers to various interest groups and the general public.
With respect to sustainable energy policies, good management of energy resources or introducing alternative sources, media is a powerful tool which can be used to educate the public and raise awareness. Publicising success stories of inclusive energy programme designs carries important gender empowerment messages.