A new report from the International Finance Corporation (IFC) has urged companies in Nepal to take action to boost women’s contribution in the hydropower sector.

The study calls for companies to adopt gender sensitive policies and practices to attract more women into working in the hydropower sector – a key national priority.

“Women make up more than half of Nepal’s population, yet the study reveals only 10 percent of all employees in the country’s hydropower sector are women,” said Wendy Werner, IFC Country Manager for Nepal, Bangladesh and Bhutan. “Companies need to seize the opportunity to embark on more gender-sensitive and family-friendly policies to help boost staff productivity and attract and retain talent which will ultimately boost their businesses.”

The study of 20 companies is part of the Powered by Women initiative – a time-bound commitment by companies to build the business case for improved gender equality and diversity in renewable energy companies in Nepal.

“We recognize the need to make conscious efforts to increase the number of women in power sector. Our organization has already taken a forward step by making women participation in the executive committee mandatory,” said Ashish Garg, Vice President of Independent Power Producers’ Association of Nepal. “By partnering with IFC on this important initiative we are committing to championing this cause.”

Some of the recommendations from the report include encouraging companies to develop and enforce gender-sensitive policies, including mechanisms to address cases of bullying, sexual harassment, abuse and exploitation.

More tailored programs to support professional development opportunities for women, such as more robust recruiting efforts directed at women’s advancement into leadership positions and targets for diversity in board representation, are also encouraged. 

At the community level, the report urges increased support from companies to women-led businesses, including improving their access to finance, and efforts to train women in non-traditional roles within the sector.

The study – spearheaded by IFC’s Hydro Environmental and Social Advisory team in partnership with the governments of Australia, Norway and Japan  – shows very few of those employed are in leadership positions, included in corporate boards or occupy non-traditional roles in the hydropower sector.

“Despite the considerable scope for women to take up non-traditional roles in the hydropower sector, we found that most companies in Nepal have not yet initiated adequate efforts to realize this,” said Kate Lazarus, Asia Environment and Social Governance Team Leader for IFC. “While some companies, particularly those led by women entrepreneurs, do show willingness in this regard, there are still challenges in transforming that intent into action on the ground.”

Gender stereotyping, remoteness of hydropower project sites and a lack of women in science, technology, engineering, and math education have been identified as key constraints for women’s participation in this sector. Concerns around initial investment costs and uncertainty over whether there will be a pay off in the short- to medium-term were also inhibiting factors, according to the study.

Nepal ranks 105 out of 149 countries on the Global Gender Gap Index 2018 conducted by the World Economic Forum, indicating that there is still a critical need to focus on gender equality across various spheres.

The study was conducted between 2019 and 2020. Over two dozen executives and almost 250 employees working in 20 companies within Nepal’s hydropower industry contributed to the research.