Last week, on the 13th of September, 2023, Dr Boluwaji Onabolu, a Professor of Practice in Cyber-Physical Food-Energy-Water Systems at the University of Johannesburg, South Africa, gave a lecture at Nigeria’s foremost policy think tank, the Nigerian Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS). Titled ‘Energy Security and Climate Change; Gender and Conflict Impact Assessment’, the lecture presented evidence linking decisions made in human security to national insecurity and energy poverty to 95 executives drawn from the senior cadres of the armed forces, judiciary, public and private sector, and captains of industry. It was an excellent opportunity to influence policy for results on the ground.
In a world where sustainable development and gender equality are paramount, understanding the intricate relationship between energy, manufacturing, and gender becomes crucial. Dr Boluwaji Onabolu, who is the President of the Network of Female Professionals in (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) WASH in Nigeria, shed light on this interplay during the thought-provoking lecture provided a comprehensive analysis of Nigeria’s energy indices, manufacturing indices, and access to basic amenities. Dr Onabolu’s insights have the potential to reshape policy and drive meaningful change on the ground, especially given that it is coming at a time when Nigeria has a new government shaking up policies and systems.
The Nexus of Gender, Energy, and Manufacturing
Dr. Onabolu’s lecture underscored the undeniable connection between gender issues, energy security, and manufacturing. She pointed out that Sustainable Development Goal 9 (SDG 9), which aims to build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation, and foster innovation, cannot be achieved in isolation. Progress in SDGs is often hindered by gender-related challenges, acting as roadblocks to overall development.
Water and Sanitation (SDG 6), she said, stands out as a prime example. Nigeria bears the burden of the highest number of people practising open defecation, with a staggering 166 million people relying on contaminated water sources. Shockingly, she referenced data which disclosed that 86% of the responsibility for water supply in households falls on women in the lowest wealth quintile. Gender inequality (SDG 5) also rears its head, as only one in four Nigerian households lacks a single educated woman, while one in seven has a man educated only to the primary level. These are dreary.
One crucial aspect of gender equality is engendering water security. This means acknowledging women as co-creators rather than mere beneficiaries.
The Critical Role of Energy Security
Energy security is the linchpin upon which many facets of national development hinge. Goal 7 of the Sustainable Development Goals focuses on ensuring access to clean and affordable energy, underpinning essential social services and economic development across agriculture, industry, transportation, and communication. However, the world is currently falling short of meeting Goal 7 targets by 2030, and disparities in access persist.
Nigeria, in particular, faces alarming challenges in energy security. The country bears the unfortunate distinction of having the highest number of air pollution-related pneumonia deaths among children under the age of five globally. These deaths are preventable, and Dr Onabolu says this fact makes the situation revealed by the data a tragedy that underscores the urgency of addressing energy poverty.
The Impact on Human Security
Dr. Onabolu’s lecture emphasised that industrialisation is inextricably linked to human security. This includes energy security, cognitive development, education, health, water, sanitation, conflict resolution, and access to basic services. Without these foundational elements, industrialisation remains a distant dream.
The poor state of water and sanitation in Nigeria has adversely affected the cognitive development of its children, diminishing the quality of its labour force and the overall economy. Energy poverty exacerbates existing inequalities, with females bearing the brunt of its adverse effects, such as exposure to harmful cooking practices like using firewood.
Gender Equality as a Catalyst
Gender equality is not just a standalone goal (SDG 5); it serves as a catalyst for achieving multiple Sustainable Development Goals. Dr. Onabolu’s lecture emphasised that Nigeria, and indeed sub-Saharan Africa as a whole, must recognise the critical role of women in decision-making processes if they aspire to become true giants of progress.
Engendering Water Security
One crucial aspect of gender equality is engendering water security. This means acknowledging women as co-creators rather than mere beneficiaries. Women play a pivotal role in water-related decisions, as they are often responsible for the majority of water-related tasks. Their insights and needs should be integrated into planning and innovation processes to ensure more efficient and equitable outcomes.
Policy Recommendations for a More Inclusive Future
Dr. Onabolu’s lecture didn’t merely raise concerns; it also provided a roadmap for positive change. Her recommendations fall into two distinct categories: Enablement Zone and Engagement Zone.
Under the Enablement Zone, her recommendations include:
- Domesticating and implementing the National Gender Policy within sectoral policies to ensure participation, contribution, and benefit.
- Identifying intersections between sectoral policies and the national energy transition plan to align energy needs, investment opportunities, and partnerships.
- Strengthening systems for scaling up access to gender-sensitive basic services such as Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) within sectoral plans using the National WASH Sector Revitalisation Plan.
In the Engagement Zone, she recommends:
- Integrating circular economy principles into sector strategic plans, working in alignment with the National Circular Economy Plan.
- Reinforcing Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and STEM-based workplace processes to ensure gender inclusion.
A Call to Prioritise Gender and Energy Security
Dr. Boluwaji Onabolu’s lecture at the Nigerian Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies has illuminated the intricate relationship between gender, energy, manufacturing, and access to basic amenities. Her insights serve as a clarion call for policymakers and stakeholders to prioritise gender equality, energy security, and access to basic services as integral components of national development. By embracing her recommendations, Nigeria can pave the way for a more inclusive and prosperous future for all its citizens, making substantial strides towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.