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FEATURE STORYFebruary 6, 2024

Women Can Lead the Pacific’s Power Transition

Pacific Women in Power Program 1

Joana Didura, a young Electrical Apprentice Technician with Fiji Energy Limited, believes that the energy sector will not remain a male dominated field. 

© World Bank


  • The World Bank Pacific Women in Power Program is helping transform the Pacific energy sector, boosting women's roles in engineering and leadership. Launched in 2023, it challenges norms and fosters advocacy for gender equality.
  • Women’s employment is crucial for economic growth in the Pacific and potential benefits of better gender equality in the energy sector include better financial performance, innovation, safer environments, and improved retention in the sector.
  • Despite existing challenges, a new generation of women is emerging in the Pacific's energy sector. From Graduate Electrical Engineers to Mechanical Engineering Students, these women are driven by a passion for addressing pressing issues like climate change.

In the Pacific, an area highly vulnerable to climate change, a significant transformation is underway in the energy sector. This change encompasses advancing towards a climate-aware energy industry and challenging and reshaping existing gender norms in the energy workforce.

The Pacific Women in Power (PWIP) Program

This transformation is supported by the World Bank through the Pacific Women in Power Program (PWIP), which is being implemented in collaboration with the Pacific Power Association and the Pacific Community. Officially launched in May 2023 at the 5th Pacific Regional Energy and Transport Ministers’ Meeting in Vanuatu, PWIP is an extensive innovative initiative dedicated to enhancing women's roles in engineering, science, and leadership within the energy sector that has received groundbreaking endorsement from energy ministers and energy utility leaders from across countries in the Pacific.

PWIP's comprehensive goals include building evidence and data-driven business cases and targets, engaging champions for advocacy, developing multi-year skill and employment programs, and enhancing capacity building and knowledge management across different groups in the sector. These efforts aim to bolster women’s employment and economic empowerment in the energy sector.

Economic Impact of Gender Equality

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World Bank research has found that closing gender employment gaps could increase GDP per capita by up to 22 percent in the Pacific. © World Bank

Female labor force participation across most of the Pacific countries is low. The World Bank highlights the broader economic benefits of gender equality, estimating that long-term economic growth per person could on average be 22 percent higher, for the Pacific region, if women’s employment rates matched men’s.

There is also a strong business case for gender diversity at work, with research showing better financial performance, greater innovation, safer operating environments, and improved employee retention. 

These are benefits that energy sector utilities in the Pacific are determined to realize. However, challenges remain.

Helle Buchhave, a Senior Social Development Specialist who leads the World Bank-implemented PWIP, provides insight into the program: “As a part of the Pacific Women in Power Program, we are gathering data and helping clients design and invest in future and current innovations, partnerships and policies, to increase women’s participation in the energy sector.”

Preliminary findings of data gathered across 14 Pacific energy utilities reveal that only 18 percent of the labor force is female, and only 10 percent of engineers are women. Buchhave emphasizes that this under representation of women risks reinforcing the norm that the energy sector is more suited for men, which could lead to a reluctance among both employers and female students and their families to consider the energy sector as a viable workplace for women.  

Voices from the industry

Industry leaders also echo the importance of PWIP’s objectives and recognize the challenges they need to overcome. General Manager of Customer Services Droumand Rupert and Deputy CEO Delilah Homelo from Solomon Power, note that geography and isolation in Solomon Islands make it difficult for women to work ‘out in the field’, with their families not accepting this work away from the home. “We must work on these sorts of social barriers, possibly with proper out-station housing and safety procedures in place for women that address safety and social concerns,” Rupert says.

According to Homelo, there are few to no women who apply for jobs. “We are missing out. We need to get more women exposed to the work available at our company, particularly in renewable energy,” she said. “If there are role models, we must promote them to show young women and girls that if she can do it, you can too.”

Currently only 18 percent of the labor force in the Pacific energy sector is female. © World Bank

Finau Moa, Acting CEO for Tonga Power Limited, believes the growing emphasis on renewable energy resources provides new opportunities for women’s participation in the sector. Moa believes that inclusive policies and recruitment practices are critical: “It’s timely now to move forward with inclusive policies and recruitment practices. No more discrimination – we want to see everyone as equal.”

Actively reaching out to women needs to be a key strategy for inclusion says Nixon Anson, CEO of the Pohnpei Utilities Corporation. “In our culture and laws, there are no barriers to women working in the energy sector. However, we recognize that our efforts in outreach and education to support women’s inclusion have not been sufficient,” Anson explains. He emphasizes there is a commitment to change: “We are dedicated to training women and actively communicating within our communities the vital role women can and should play in our sector.”

Electricity utility ‘Te Aponga Uira’ in the Cook Islands serves as a good example of promoting gender quality in the sector. Board member Donald Buchanan says that strategic leadership has played a pivotal role in fostering gender balance: “The change is set from the top, and as a board, we set our goals to guide organizational culture, including to support opportunities for women and men in the energy sector. This approach demonstrates how leadership commitment, and a national framework can drive meaningful progress towards gender equality within energy utilities."

Inspiring the next generation

Despite these challenges, a new generation of women is emerging in the Pacific's energy sector.

Fuimaono Sarafina Lesa, a Graduate Electrical Engineer at Samoa’s Electric Power Corporation chose a career in energy because it’s at the forefront of addressing her generation’s pressing issues, from climate change to sustainable development.  “I’ve always been fascinated by the potential innovation in this field. As an engineer, I am able to be a part of the solution, to drive and make impactful change through new technologies.

As the only woman in her class, Silvia Halofaki, a Mechanical Engineering Student at the University of the South Pacific, says it can be challenging. “When I look around, I don’t see any other women in my class, and it’s not easy trying to work alongside only boys,” she says.

Policies supporting gender balance and actively promoting female role models in the sector is important says Tupou Falemei Fale, Human Resources Manager for Tonga Power Limited: “I also see opportunities to highlight our champions – some of the great women working as engineers at Tonga Power – and go out to schools to encourage students to pursue careers with us.”

Frederic Petit, Managing Director of UNELCO in Vanuatu, agrees, and speaks highly of their female engineers: “They are still a minority but are highly capable and very conscious of compliance and safety.”

Support for Gender Equality and Investment in STEM

To help more women choose a similar path, Hon. Lynda Tabuya, Fiji’s Minister for Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation, speaks passionately about the need for systemic change to create more pathways for girls and women, both in education and in the workplace: “We need to encourage our women and girls to participate equally as we’re looking at the future of work.” She identifies significant challenges, including hiring discrimination and unequal pay, which must be addressed to create a level playing field. “It’s discouraging, but it is up to us to tackle these issues,” she asserts.

Gordon Chang, Executive Director of the Pacific Power Association, stresses the importance of fostering interest among women and girls in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields. He articulates a clear vision for this initiative: “We should work with high schools and universities to attract more females into the sector, and we’re excited to partner with the World Bank’s Pacific Women in Power Program to do this,” Chang said.

More women in the Pacific energy sector will play an important role in the sector’s growth and transformation. © World Bank


The Pacific Women in Power Program represents a significant step towards transforming the energy landscape by promoting gender equality and creating employers of choice across the sector. “We want this program to have some really practical outcomes to help shift the dial in the Pacific energy sector to enhance equality for women” says the World Bank team leader, Helle Buchhave. “This journey, while filled with challenges, is also a journey of hope and opportunity, not only addressing current gender disparities but also setting a precedent for the global community.”

Stephen N. Ndegwa, World Bank Country Director for PNG and the Pacific says the Pacific Women in Power Program is about more than equal representation. "It's about harnessing the full potential of women's leadership and innovation in the Pacific's energy sector, inspiring similar efforts worldwide, and paving the way for women’s jobs, now and into the future.”


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