The climate crisis is already changing the way we invest in infrastructure, with governments, private investors and project developers working together to change everything from designing energy-efficient buildings to helping communities transition to green energy sources, to creating disaster-resistant transportation. networks – all in anticipation of a warmer, more disaster-prone planet.
To date, the role of gender in shaping infrastructure investments has been more limited. But gender is relevant to all infrastructure investments, not just those that explicitly focus on social impact.
Gender influences how, when and where infrastructure is used – think of the additional safety concerns for women in public transport or the role of water infrastructure in freeing up girls’ time for education. Our gendered experiences even shape what we think of as “infrastructure” in the first place: see recent post-COVID discussions in the US about childcare as infrastructure.
Failing to get it gender right risks creating infrastructure projects that do not meet the needs of their entire community and therefore fail to achieve their business, environmental or social objectives.
With an estimated $97 trillion needed by 2040 to support sustainable development, it is essential that this investment is gender-responsive.
Gender-Smart and Climate-Smart
Some climate-savvy investors are already using gender as a lens through which to identify potential risks and opportunities in an investment.
The Private Infrastructure Development Group – PIDG, a sustainable infrastructure investor and project developer working in Africa and Southeast Asia – screens each investment against the 2X Challenge and its own gender equity criteria and policies before forward it to the investment committee. It works with grantees to ensure their projects are both gender-smart and climate-smart.
For example, when PIDG invested in a green bond created by Acorn Housing to finance the construction of university accommodation in Nairobi, it helped the developer to ensure that the building was not only energy efficient, but that its design was also sustainable. take into account the safety and welfare concerns of female students.
If we want to build infrastructure that is both gender-smart and climate-smart, we need education, coordination, and synchronization to make sure everyone involved is fully on board with the benefits.
In Pakistan, PIDG GuarantCo is working with a local solar supplier to help improve the gender balance of its workforce, working to bridge the gap between education and employment. In Pakistan, many young women are pursuing STEM education, but they struggle to enter the job market. GuarantCo works with recruiters to help them develop fairer and more equitable hiring practices, as well as with the project developer to fill potential employee gaps in their training. This approach is gaining momentum in many energy access investments in Africa and Asia, by PIDG and others.
Giving this kind of deep attention to gender also brings business benefits.
K-Electric, the PIDG investor, has noticed that many homes in the communities where they work rely on illegal electrical connections, which are more affordable but pose serious safety risks that can cause injury and death. Knowing that women were the primary decision-makers in these households, but men who were not family members were not allowed into their homes during the day, they teamed up with local women who served trusted educators about the dangers of illegal energy use, encouraging communities to switch to safer energy sources and growing K-Electric’s customer base in the process.
This kind of nuanced understanding of how gender dynamics play out in the communities you work in is key to building a gender-smart infrastructure. At a roundtable on green infrastructure co-hosted by GenderSmart and PIDG in June, a common theme raised by participants was the impact of unintended consequences: projects that they believe would increase gender equity but which ended up having unforeseen negative impacts.
PIDG investor JCM Power has learned first-hand that employing women in good green jobs can have negative consequences, particularly in conservative contexts: lead to increased gender-based violence, for example, or push back domestic responsibilities on adolescent girls. As part of a project, they learned that some workers were breastfeeding but were reluctant to tell their employer for fear of losing their jobs.
To anticipate and respond to these challenges, JCM works with local social inclusion experts to identify potential problems and develop solutions. An example: providing an on-site nursery that allows workers to keep their jobs and increase their productivity while meeting the needs of their infants.
Opportunities for you, the reader
The smartest infrastructure is a group effort, bringing together the collective knowledge and expertise of everyone involved: from developers to development finance institutions, private investors, project managers, suppliers, policy makers and affected communities.
It also means that if we want to build infrastructure that is both gender and climate smart, we need education, coordination and synchronization to make sure everyone involved is fully on board with the benefits. .
One way to make this a reality is to create market signals that reward investors for doing business the right way. For example, could projects have a greater likelihood of passing regulatory stages if they demonstrate that they have considered the gendered impacts of what they create? Could businesses that are gender and climate smart gain access to lower interest rates or other incentives?
There is also a need to integrate a gender perspective into infrastructure due diligence and project development, where we have the most influence in shaping infrastructure towards equitable outcomes. During our recent roundtable, project developers pointed out that the costs of integrating such an approach into standard due diligence are often overestimated. Could gender-disaggregated reports and statistics become the norm?
We also need women leading investment and infrastructure development teams, guiding climate-smart and gender-aware business decision-making.
This point was strongly emphasized by Tariye Gbadegesin of ARM Harith, who runs a climate infrastructure fund out of Nigeria, and other investors and developers at our recent roundtable. As we think about climate-smart infrastructure with a gender lens, who is at the table to make decisions and advance gender equity from the top, and women who see women at the table inspire other women to come forward. It was pointed out that often: people assume that the best female talent isn’t there in the infrastructure, but that’s not true. It takes intentionality and openness to find that talent and it’s there, on a global scale.
Finally, there is a lot to be said for being an active investor and using your power and your voice to change those you work with – not just on the climate side but also on the social side. It is only through diverse and actively engaged teams at all levels that we will build an infrastructure that meets the needs of this century.