Gender Module 1 - 1

Area of expertise: Parliamentary Action on Gender and Renewable Energy

Energy access: a gendered issue

Modern energy services for clean water, sanitation and healthcare, cooking and heating, lighting and communications, and mechanical power for productive uses are essential to human well-being and to economic, environmental and social development. This is why ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all has become part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development as Goal 7. Access to energy remains, however, an area of unmet need. Globally, 1.2 billion people have no access to electricity (IEA World Energy Outlook 2015) and many live in energy poverty, that is, without household access to modern energy services including electricity and clean cooking facilities.

The global energy access divide runs along the lines of wealth – both between the rich and poor countries, and within countries – and the urban/rural split. The challenge is particularly acute in the least developed countries of South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, with more than 95% of population without electricity. In rural areas, accounting for 80% of the world total, physical access is often non-existent or of inadequate quality and/or quantity. It is an alarming fact that since 2000 progress in providing electrification in urban areas has occurred at twice the pace of that in rural areas. In rural areas with access to electricity, cooking accounts for a mere 2 percent of consumption, while over 80% of the total electricity volume was used for lighting and television (WHO & UNDP, 2009). Globally, more than 2.7 billion people depend on open fires and biomass for cooking while nearly half of the world’s population rely on the traditional use of solid fuels, such as wood, dung, crop waste, coal and charcoal, which causes harmful indoor air pollution (IEA WEO 2011).

With access to modern services being fundamental to sustainable development and economic growth across the world, it is essential to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goal 5 on gender equality and empower all women and girls. However, the energy divide is a gendered one, with energy poverty affecting women and men differently. Of the 1.3 billion people who live in poverty, 70% are women. In many parts of the developing world, a combination of traditional gender roles and lack of modern energy services affects the life chances, social and economic opportunities, and even the health of women and girls. In many developing countries the responsibility of looking after a household and the daily subsistence chores - food production, cooking, household water supply and collecting fuel for cooking and heating - in practice mean that women are often to a large extent tasked with providing energy sources for both their families and, collectively, for entire communities. This is compounded by the fact that globally around 30% of households in rural areas are female-headed.

What is gender?

Various definitions of gender point to the different aspects of the term and to how gender relations affect nearly all aspects of life. ECOWAS defines gender as the social meanings given to being either female or male in a given society, as well as the economic, social, political and cultural attributes and opportunities associated with being male or female. These meanings and definitions vary from one society to another, are time bound and changeable. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) gender is not determined biologically, as a result of sexual characteristics of either women or men, but is constructed socially. The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, also known as UN Women, points out that gender determines what is expected, allowed and valued in a women or a man in a given context. In most societies there are differences and inequalities between women and men in responsibilities assigned, activities undertaken, access to and control over resources, as well as decision-making opportunities. Gender is part of the broader socio-cultural context. Other important criteria for socio-cultural analysis include class, race, poverty level, ethnic group and age.

Without access to modern energy services, women, and sometimes children, must travel considerable distances to gather biomass and water for cooking. In colder regions, fuel must also be collected for heating. Such household chores are limited to daylight hours, as is reading for schoolwork, attending classes, working a day job or participating in social or political interaction outside the household. This is also partly why women’s technical skills are often less developed than men’s. Even the most basic indicator, adult literacy rate, shows that 87% of the world’s men can read and write whilst only 77% of women are literate (Oxford Internet Institute, 2011). In many parts of the world, women are more disadvantaged than men in similar circumstances, for example in terms of access to and control over resources such as land, cash, and credit.

The continued burning of traditional fuels for individual cooking and heating in unventilated homes has serious health implications, the brunt of which is borne by women and girls. Cancer, acute respiratory infections and lung disease are among the main causes of deaths attributed to indoor air pollution generated by fuels such as coal, wood, charcoal and traditional biomass. 85% of these deaths are women and children. Indoor air pollution, moreover, results in chronic and life-long diseases such as asthma, while the burning of solid fuels burns carries a risk of burns or physical injuries. Finally, collecting fuel from remote or isolated areas can expose women to violence (ENERGIA/DfID, 2006). This is especially the case in places where street lighting is lacking as a consequence of limited or no energy access (ESMAP, 2007).

What can renewable energy development do for women and girls?

The development of clean sources of energy holds enormous potential for meeting the energy needs of women and girls. In rural areas in particular, off-grid or stand-alone renewable energy systems such as solar, wind, hydroelectric or backup systems which do not deplete the Earth's natural resources, can provide life-changing access to electricity and heating. More broadly, a stable, sustainable and affordable energy supply can be catalyst for improved economic development and for the provision of basic education and health care facilities.

What is renewable energy

Renewable energy is a form of energy produced from a source that is naturally and constantly replenished. The most common types of renewable energy include solar, wind, hydro power, geothermal and bioenergy.

Renewable sources are used primarily for:

  • Generation of electricity: Renewable resources are harnessed to generate electricity that is distributed for residential, commercial and industrial purposes;
  • Heating: Whether created centrally or in a decentralized manner (in individual buildings), renewable resources, such as solar-heated water, can be used to directly heat buildings; and
  • Transportation: Fuel for private vehicles, public transportation and industrial and commercial use, such as freight trains, ships and airplanes, can be generated from renewable resources.

In the past decade, increased use of renewable energy has largely stemmed from electricity generation and traditional use of biomass. However, realising the full benefits of renewables requires a greater use of sustainable energy sources for heating and transportation.

For more information, consult the Fact Sheet: Renewable Energy.

Mainstreaming gender in energy policies and programming is necessary social policy and would enhance the efficiency of energy policies. Incorporating gender perspectives in energy projects, policy and planning is critical in ensuring the effectiveness not just of energy programmes and policies, but of all development activities that require the use of energy.

Low-carbon, renewable and energy efficiency technologies can make a dramatic improvement to women’s lives. Off-grid renewable energy can be used to provide electricity in rural communities, for agricultural production and processing machinery, water pumps, communications technologies, and other equipment. This frees up women’s time, expands their access to information and provides new employment and business opportunities. Examples of these technologies include solar photovoltaic panels, small hydro systems, small-scale wind turbines, and biogas digesters fuelled by local animal wastes.

Gender-Sensitive Energy Policies

What do gender-sensitive energy policies look like? Examples of such policies rendered with participation of women will be discussed further in this toolkit and are, among others:

  • Investment in energy infrastructure geared towards the needs of women, such as decentralised renewable energy systems;
  • Creation of market incentives to promote the distribution of clean modern fuels that respond to women’s energy demands;
  • Laws and regulations that enable women to own land, control productive assets, and access credit and other financial services;
  • Creation of accountability systems (such as gender budgets) and oversight processes (such as gender audits);
  • National budget allocations enabling access to improved household energy technologies through, for example, innovative financing mechanisms;
  • Promote women’s participation and representation in the energy sector by strengthening institutions in charge of energy policy to develop more gender-aware information management systems and deliver training programmes for women in the energy sector.


Disproportionate effects of climate change on women

In addition to providing much-needed energy access, renewable energy development reduces greenhouse gas emissions, thus mitigating the escalating effects of climate change and the disproportionate impact global warming is having on women and girls.

The short-term devastating effects of climate change have been felt around the world through extreme weather conditions and natural hazards such as landslides, floods, hurricanes and droughts. In the long run, the impoverishment of ecosystems and loss of biodiversity have presented societies with potentially catastrophic consequences: a hazard to agriculture and food security, depleting water resources, harmful health effects, forced displacement or migration, and serious risks to key infrastructure, to name a few.

Dependent on the threatened natural resources for the livelihood more often than men, women are potentially more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Due to long-standing social, political and economic conditions, their capacity to respond to the changing climate can be severely limited. Unequal access to resources on the one hand and to decision-making processes on the other determines the extent to which women can be proactive in adapting to the adverse consequences of- or mitigating climate change. This is further exacerbated by limits to their mobility in rural areas, access to financial resources, capacity-building programmes and technologies; in other words, obstacles to women’s empowerment by and large.

A gendered response to climate change

Women are uniquely positioned to address energy poverty. Because of their role as home-managers, primary food producers, primary users of energy technologies, and providers of water and fuels for their families and communities, women have a unique understanding of the needs, skills and technologies necessary for developing context-specific adaptation and disaster management strategies, as well as contributing to the mitigation solution. They are ultimately the key actors in determining the outcome of policy implementation, as well as take-up and use of technologies and fuels.

However, women are currently underrepresented in energy and environmental decision-making process, planning and management of interventions. Likewise, their participation in the energy sector is limited and they face obstacles to becoming energy entrepreneurs. Increasing participation and representation of women in policy making processes as well as enabling women entrepreneurship is an untapped resource to ensuring effectiveness of policies and scaling up adoption of fuels and technologies. Gender-informed practices can increase the effectiveness of policies and clean energy businesses, as well as, in turn, have broader empowerment impacts.

The importance of balanced participation of women and gender-responsive climate policies, which are becoming inextricably linked to energy policy worldwide, are being recognised as a cross-cutting element of the global climate agreement, with more than 50 decisions of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) supporting the integration of gender considerations. Moreover, the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), the recently established form of countries’ commitments outlining the national ambitions to reduce GHG emissions, leave room for going beyond emissions reductions to include climate equity factors such as human development, resilience and equality. 40 percent of INDCs submitted by the UNFCCC Parties prior to the COP 21 in Paris, have included the link between gender and climate change in the context of national climate change actions and strategies.

Embedding gender in INDCs in West Africa

Benin Benin intends to achieve the nationally determined contributions by reducing the exposure of pregnant women and children under five to malaria and other climate change-related diseases. The policy seeks to achieve a decrease in morbidity and mortality related to climate change.

Senegal Senegal puts forward activities that improve the access of households to clean energy sources and measure the reduction of CO2 emissions and biomass use in the areas of electricity generation. The country hopes to alleviate the disproportionate economic burden on women related to fuel and energy provision, and to improve the academic performance of children.

Ivory Coast The country seeks to integrate the gender aspect in a range of primarily agricultural policies aimed at the development of sustainable energy solutions. Facilitating the access of famers to new technologies for intensifying production and making it more sustainable, as well as, adapting agricultural input is expected to improve food self-sufficiency and strengthen the climate resilience of farming practices. It can also improve the purchasing power of rural communities and reduce the dependency on imports to 40 % of export earnings. Likewise, facilitating the access of women to clean cooking stoves and fuels can improve health, livelihoods and generate sustainable income for women.

What can parliaments do?

Parliamentarians can provide and promote the political leadership required to act. Through law-making, MPs can propose or amend legislation that will strengthen the legal framework and the policies pertaining to renewable energy development. Their oversight function empowers them to monitor the government’s implementation of set policies and targets, and allows them to hold the government to account. Closely linked to this is a parliament’s power of the purse. As the state budget is considered and approved by the parliament on an annual basis, parliamentarians can push for budgetary provisions dedicated to renewable energy development. In their role as representatives of the people, parliamentarians play an important role in soliciting constituent feedback and building community support for renewable energy projects. Engaging constituents on the benefits of renewable energy can be instrumental in the successful implementation of a project or development of a policy.

Renewable Energy How-To Guide for Parliamentarians

This ‘How-To Guide: Renewable Energy for Parliamentarians’ was developed in the framework of the Parliamentary Action on Renewable Energy project (PARE), a joint project by UNDP and the Climate Parliament, with the support of the European Commission and the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This publication seeks to facilitate and encourage parliamentary action on renewable energy. The Guide explores the benefits of renewable energy development, presents an overview of renewable energy technologies and their respective applications, and offers concrete guidelines and tips for parliamentary action. To read the Guide, click here

In addition to the specific tools provided by the parliament’s Rules of Procedure, parliamentarians also have a less well-defined authority that enables them to advocate effectively on an issue that they feel is of particular importance. Such advocacy is best done in cooperation with other political actors.

Outside of parliament, parliamentarians can build a coalition of those who support the development of renewable energy, such as community leaders in off-grid regions, industry figures and investors. Such a coalition can create pressure on a government to develop a plan to implement renewables, or identify and advocate for the changes required to make an existing plan more effective.

Lastly, MPs can promote women’s participation and influence in energy decision-making. That is to say, they can help create conditions in which women determines what issues enter the political debate and receive a policy response. Parliaments can seek to ensure that women take part at all stages of the policy cycle, from identification, through prioritisation, formulation, design, planning, implementation, to monitoring and evaluation. While law-making to secure women’s representation in decision-making bodies is a starting point, women also need the skills to participate in such activities. Policy-makers and implementers, whether male or female, must be aware of the different roles men and women play in a given society and how such roles result in different energy uses and needs. This capacity in concepts of gender and energy, as well as policy-making and implementation skills have to be developed through training and education. Parliaments can support the creation of educational support, information services and secure the required budgetary earmarks (e.g. for leadership-training schools or earmarking a specific women's budget for enhancing women's decision-making). As explored in Modules 2 and 3, engaging with and soliciting input from civil society organisations, gender advocates and research institutes is an important way of ensuring that information used by parliaments is up-to-date and accurate, and that its laws and budgets reflect the needs and the realities of all stakeholders, including in a gender-differentiated way.

Local energy planning and the Indian panchayat

Two recent changes in the law passed by the Parliament of India have been pivotal to increasing women’s participation in energy decision-making. First of all, panchayat, the local village planning committees have been empowered to initiate energy planning activities. Panchayat have a legal quota for women in their membership, with a third of the seats in all local bodies are reserved for women since 1993. Currently, the Parliament is debating a new Constitution Amendment Bill which would increase the quota to 50%. The same quota would apply in the case of urban local bodies such as municipal corporations, municipal councils and Nagar panchayats. Energy planning on a local level with active participation by women is critical, for example, to effective collection of sex-disaggregated data.