The path to equality: overcoming gender barriers in the energy sector of Kazakhstan

January 25, 2024

Asem Zhilkibayeva, director of LLP, which received subsidies for implementing the solar power plant project

Photo: UNDP Kazakhstan/Makhmud Mirzayev

Today, men are overrepresented in the energy sector in Kazakhstan. Women rarely occupy key positions, especially at management level and in technical professions. According to the latest statistics, more than half of women (53%) work in low-skilled positions in the electricity sector. The proportion of women in management positions and technical professions is only 16 and 19 percent, respectively. This discrepancy highlights the need for a more balanced approach to gender policy in the sector.
The United Nations Development Programme report named Gender Balance in the Renewable Energy Sector in Kazakhstan: Status, Challenges, and Solutions highlights this imbalance and calls for measures to change the situation. UNDP experts conducted a study on the current state of gender balance in the energy sector in Kazakhstan, analysed the key factors influencing the low interest of women in this field, and presented a set of recommendations to improve the gender balance in the sector. 

Research, global context, and the role of women

Data from a comprehensive study on the role of women in the energy sector in Kazakhstan, conducted by Kazenergy and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) in 2019, shows a clear gender imbalance. Women are significantly underrepresented in all sub-sectors of the industry, including oil and gas, electricity, coal mining and renewable energy. Between 2016 and 2019, women accounted for an average of around 25 percent of employees in the energy sector.

Share of men and women in all sub-sectors of the industry

Source: Kazenergy (2019)

Data from the International Renewable Energy Agency's (IRENA) 2022 report shows that women make up 40 percent of the global workforce in the solar energy sector, significantly more than in the oil and gas sector (22%). In the wind energy sector, however, women make up only 21 percent. The report also notes that women are particularly active in solar energy production (47%), but are less likely to be involved in the installation of photovoltaic systems (12%). This data highlights the huge potential for women's participation in clean energy.

Women in oil and gas, renewables overall, wind, solar

Source: IRENA (2019)

Gender imbalance in education and industry

In the context of gender distribution in vocational education in Kazakhstan, less than 10 percent of women students were registered in energy-related educational programmes in 2022. This highlights the limited interest of the women audience in energy disciplines, including renewable energy sources (RES) and STEM. At the same time, women increasingly prefer specialisations in medicine and pharmacy, where the proportion of women is 75 percent in 2022, as well as in education (71%), arts and culture (69%), services, business and management (65.5%), meteorology (64%) and law (41.4%).

Students in technical and vocational education organizations by groups of specialties (at the beginning of the 2021/2022 academic year)

Source: Bureau of National Statistics (2021)

In terms of the gender distribution of the labour force in Kazakhstan, there is a significant gender imbalance in the energy sectors, including coal mining, oil production and energy. Between 2010 and 2020, the participation of women in leadership positions in the energy sector as well as in the overall labour force has decreased. Furthermore, women in these industries tend to occupy low-skilled and non-core positions. It should be noted that the proportion of women in the coal, oil and energy industries exceeds that of men, but this is mainly for unskilled positions.

Share of women labour force in the energy industry in Kazakhstan (2010–2020)

Source: Ministry of Economy of Kazakhstan (2020); Atakhanova and Howie (2022)

Overcoming barriers and increasing gender equality

Kazakhstan demonstrates its commitment to the principles of gender equality, which is confirmed by significant changes in the creation of equal working conditions for women and men. Thus, as part of the state policy on eliminating discrimination in the field of labour, in 2021 the list of professions prohibited for women was removed from the country’s Labour Code. This decision opened up access to 219 professions and jobs that were previously considered exclusively male and unsuitable for women and was an important step toward eliminating gender-specific barriers to employment.

UNDP report showed that the main barriers preventing women in Kazakhstan from engaging in the green economy or energy sector are limited access to information and markets, lack of financial and legal literacy, and stereotypes and prejudices embedded in society.

However, according to the IRENA, the interdisciplinary nature of the renewable energy sector attracts women and offers them significant opportunities in various segments of the value chain. Most of the skills required to take advantage of these opportunities can be developed locally, and women are free to take the lead and ensure the provision of off-grid renewable energy systems.

Kazakhstan has already introduced mechanisms and instruments to financially support and empower small and medium enterprises, including women entrepreneurs. For example, the UNDP in Kazakhstan and the Damu Entrepreneurship Development Fund JSC have signed an agreement to promote and support the development of green projects. Now entrepreneurs implementing renewable energy projects can receive financial support to implement their ideas.

Way forward 

To ensure gender equality in the energy sector of Kazakhstan, it is necessary to coordinate efforts aimed at creating favourable conditions for the active participation of women. The results of a comprehensive study conducted by UNDP experts as part of the report led to the development of a set of recommendations related to education, legislation, and the improvement of gender balance in the renewable energy sector.

Key suggestions include collecting data and conducting research to analyse employment problems in the renewable energy sector, including at the household level; providing special scholarships for women studying technical disciplines in the renewable energy sector; creating partnerships between educational institutions and industry representatives to promote women; and strengthening gender-sensitive public policies.

The full version of the report Gender Balance in the Renewable Energy Sector in Kazakhstan: Status, Problems and Solutions can be found here.