Energy: A gender issue
Energy is essential to nearly all aspects of our lives but it means different things to different people. In the developed world energy can mean petrol to run cars, electricity for lights and computers. In the developing world, it can mean survival: being able to boil water to avoid disease. Millions of people, mostly women and children, spend many hours a day collecting fuel for heating and cooking.
Of those living in poverty and environmental vulnerability, women bear the heaviest burden. Of the two million people who die annually from breathing smoke from inefficient stoves and ovens, over 85% are women and children.
How are gender and energy related?
Energy is sensitive to gender because:
- The absence of modern energy sources and renewable energy technologies in the rural developing world affects women and men differently. Most women in rural communities devote almost all of their day to carrying out basic tasks without receiving the benefits that renewable energy technologies offer. They depend largely on fuelwood for their most basic energy needs.
- The energy interests of women are often ignored. Well-intentioned energy projects can inadvertently increase the heavy burden of women by not taking into account their particular situation. Very few women in vulnerable social or environmental conditions are involved in energy planning or have the ability or opportunity to voice their needs.
- Women bear the brunt of the ‘invisible’ human energy crisis, reflected in the time and effort they spend pumping water, or using inefficient energy sources for agriculture and transport. They need more modern, sustainable energy sources which can improve their work and their quality of life, both inside and outside the home.
- Women have less access than men to land and credit, and to the information needed to take advantage of opportunities to improve their access to energy and generate income from micro-enterprises.
- Women and men handle knowledge and experience of energy differently, either through their traditional roles or newly emerging roles.
Facts about women and energy*
- 43% of the global population still relies on solid fuels for household use, resulting in dramatic impacts on health, especially for women and children.
- Some 71% of people living in rural areas use traditional biomass, primarily wood, for cooking, while 70% of those living in urban areas rely on modern fuels, especially gas.
- Worldwide almost two million deaths annually from pneumonia, chronic lung disease, and lung cancer are associated with exposure to indoor air pollution resulting from cooking with solid fuels, and 99% of them occur in developing countries.
- Of the 2 million people who die each year from smoke from inefficient cook stoves, more than 85% are women and children.
*source: UN Women
Addressing gender in energy policy
Evidence from developing countries suggests that concentrating investment in energy services associated with production activity (generally considered to be carried out by men) has neglected the needs of rural households. This has led to policies that are not only gender biased but are also less effective in reducing poverty.
Renewable energy technologies are being promoted as a global solution to climate change mitigation. But the traditional view of energy planning as simply providing energy sources needs to change to ensure that the social and economic circumstances of the people who need it are considered.
Increased access to clean, affordable fuel and technology for cooking and heating, as well as motorized equipment for grinding grain and pumping water can bring immediate benefits, especially for women and girls. Household lighting and communications equipment allows women, who often run home-based businesses, to expand their working, leisure and education time, and engage more fully in community affairs.
Deciding the appropriate technology for each particular situation, training needs, access to available technologies and finance, and generating energy policies that benefit women and men equally and can be a challenge for planners.
The first step to ensure the participation of women in projects and make sure that renewable energy policy empowers them. This can be done educating them on available technologies and the potential benefits or disadvantages.
To understand the gender implications of energy issues, it is important to raise questions about roles: who does what, who owns what, who makes decisions about what and how, who wins and loses in a planned intervention.
This allows policy makers to assess the potential impact that an energy policy or project will have on women and men.