Empowering women

Women and energy

In the developing world, women represent 70% of the 1.3 billion people living on <$1/day. Low energy access forces them to spend many hours in unpaid labour – growing food, grinding grains, fetching fire wood, drawing water, etc. This figure is likely to rise with the current food, fuel and financial crises and with climate change.

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Adapted from Wickramasinghe, A., 2003.

Their role as household energy managers leaves women with little time or resources for education training or income-generating activities. Girls are often kept home from school to help their overburdened mothers. Burning wood, dung and coal indoors causes 1.5 million deaths per year – mostly mothers and children – while fuel collection exposes women to physical strains and threats of assaults.

Women are under-represented across the energy chain.

They suffer greater impacts of energy poverty and are less engaged in decision making about energy at personal, professional or political levels.

Women as energy change-makers?

In emerging and industrialized economies, women represent less than 20% of those employed in the energy sector and many are in administrative roles. This reflects low enrolment of young women in science and technology programs, and lack of opportunity to advance to executive levels.

Given their role as energy managers within traditional communities, women are vital to the transition to more sustainable energy production and use. They can be trained to operate new energy enterprises such as: production and distribution of cleaner, more efficient stoves; assembly and marketing of solar-powered equipment; construction of biogas digesters and small hydro systems; and sustainable production of biofuels.

The Barefoot College in India teaches women to become energy technicians and entrepreneurs. Photo: Nigel Dickenson

The Barefoot College in India teaches women to become energy technicians and entrepreneurs. Photo: Nigel Dickinson

Personal impacts

Poor health and persistent poverty, as women who rely on biomass suffer respiratory problems and have little time to generate income.

Being relegated to the role of “aid recipients” of energy solutions that do not reflect personal needs or satisfy cultural norms.

• The need to adapt personal choices to fit energy policy and pricing regimes, regardless of negative impacts to self or family.

Underlying dysfunctions

Low status of women in societies where acute energy poverty gives them little authority in financing or selecting alternative energy devices.

Poor understanding of women’s energy needs, leading to deployment of options that are not taken up.

Under-representation of women in all areas of decision making across the energy chain, including low enrollment of young women in science and technology programs.

Taking action

In many developing countries, improving women’s access to energy can be empowering on multiple levels. But one must not overlook that such initiatives may imply challenging local customs and norms. Thus, it is critical to work with women and their broader social networks, seeking to:

• Involve women in energy decision-making and take advantage of their experience in managing fuels and natural resources.

Engage women in the design, selection, promotion and use of locally appropriate energy technologies.

• Offer training programs and innovative financing options to support employment and entrepreneurship across many sectors, including in producing, marketing, installing and maintaining more efficient energy systems.

Increasing women’s involvement across the energy sector is a separate challenge. By raising the profile of female thought leaders, EnAct aims to demonstrate the broad range of areas of expertise that are relevant to energy access, including technology, policy, business and social sciences.

Within the theme of empowering women, EnAct will also explore broader issues related to energy and gender.

EnGage now

EnAct seeks additional input from individuals and organizations working in the area of empowering women through improved energy supply. Please help us – and others – better understand the scope and scale of this particular challenge by adding statistics, examples of personal impacts or underlying dysfunctions, or information related to solutions.

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