14 Oct 2019 - by A4ID Team

Ground-Breaking Legal Directive Forces Action on Gender Equality in West Africa’s Energy Sector

A4ID partners develop a legal directive on gender impact assessments for West Africa’s energy sector.

Rural women are disproportionately impacted by poor access to clean and reliable energy in the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS). As part of its efforts to address this shortfall, A4ID’s Development Partner, the ECOWAS Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (ECREEE) sought urgent legal assistance to develop a more robust legal framework, which would force large-scale energy projects to assess the implication of their plans on gender equality.

Recognising the gender barriers facing West African women

The systemic gender inequality identified in the energy sector of the 15 ECOWAS Member States negatively impacts women’s agency and economic empowerment. Rural women, who are traditionally responsible for household maintenance, are often unable to pursue economic opportunities and gain financial independence due to the time they must devote to collecting firewood and fuelling the home. Additionally, with the majority of land titles held by men, women rarely receive displacement compensation paid out to households displaced by energy infrastructure development. In Senegal and Mali, for example, around 90% to 95% of land titles are held by men and only five ECOWAS countries have legislation protecting women’s land rights.

In cases where the household is headed by a woman, their access to social tariffs for electricity is often limited compared to that of male-headed households. This discrimination at every turn places women in the region at a significant financial disadvantage compared to men. In terms of decision-making, women’s voice in the energy sector is also notably absent. Women are overrepresented in administrative roles of ECOWAS Energy Ministries, whilst men largely hold the managerial and technical roles in these institutions. The lack of women in positions of leadership in the ECOWAS energy sector, means concerns that the sector perpetuates gender inequality are unlikely to be heard.

Establishing a gender inclusive legal framework

Having recognised the deep-rooted gender inequality in West Africa’s energy sector, ECREEE – whose mandate is to promote renewable energy and energy-efficient markets in the region – established the ECOWAS Programme on Gender Mainstreaming in Energy Access (ECOW-GEN) in 2013. This visionary initiative represented the first attempt at making gender inclusion and women’s empowerment central to energy decisions. Since being launched, ECOW-GEN has made huge steps forward for women’s human rights in sustainable energy development, which have been formalised in an ECOWAS Policy on Gender Mainstreaming in Energy Access (Energy and Gender Policy).

In order to operationalise the Energy and Gender Policy, ECREEE assembled a committee of expert consultants to develop a legal framework that would enforce gender responsive energy development projects. Seeking legal advice with the development of this framework, ECREEE approached A4ID for urgent assistance in sourcing a suitable team of lawyers with commercial experience in energy projects. Within three weeks, ECREEE was registered as a new A4ID partner, the project had been scoped and circulated by A4ID, and the task was placed with a team of lawyers from Sullivan & Cromwell LLP, who developed a draft Directive on Gender Assessments in Energy Projects (Directive).

Drawing inspiration from current processes used in Environmental and Social Impact Assessments, the Directive forces large-scale energy development projects to assess and report on the implication of their plans for gender equality. The Directive takes account of the specific interests of women in the development of energy projects and requires that any potential adverse or discriminatory impacts on women deriving from such projects are identified and mitigated. By encouraging the development of regulatory frameworks to improve transparency in the planning and implementation of energy projects, the Directive also seeks to promote and increase the participation and capacity of women as customers, employees, managers, investors, or other stakeholders in these projects.

The lawyers’ draft Directive was presented to the ECOWAS Member States for validation during a workshop in June 2017 and subsequently validated by ECOWAS Energy Ministers. With Sullivan & Cromwell’s assistance, ECREEE is now working with ECOWAS Member States to develop National Actions Plans (NAPs) on Gender and Energy. The NAPs will set out short-to-long-term actions to operationalise the Directive in the respective Member States.

Lawyers shape pathway towards a more equal future

As the NAPs are implemented, the energy sector will have to go beyond vague commitments on gender equality to comply with enforceable laws that require concrete and measurable actions. As the first region in the world to introduce such measures for any type of development project, West Africa is a world leader in terms of Gender Impact Assessment requirements.

By breaking down barriers to equal rights of participation in the expanding energy services market, it is expected that energy projects will start to bring equal benefits for men and women, and more women will be welcomed into the private and public sector energy workforce. The long-term impact of the legal assistance provided by Sullivan & Cromwell in developing the Directive and reviewing the NAPs will be to reduce adverse gender-related discrimination in energy infrastructure development and reform the energy sector to make it more gender responsive and inclusive.

“Sullivan & Cromwell is proud to have collaborated with ECREEE, national stakeholders, and other partners on the project to bring considerations of gender to the forefront in the approval process for energy projects in West Africa. The knowledge and understanding that we gained through our collaborations will have an impact for a long time to come on how we advise clients on energy projects,” says Samuel E. Saunders, Associate at Sullivan & Cromwell.


Given that the Directive is the first of its kind, Sullivan & Cromwell’s lawyers will be the voice of authority on the development of subsequent legal frameworks for Gender Impact Assessments. The lessons learned and expertise shared during this project could be used to develop similar directives in other regions and sectors around the world and help to achieve further progress towards SDG 5 on Gender Equality and SDG 10 on Reduced Inequalities.