Access to clean energy improves women’s lives in a myriad of ways. It supports access to education and quality healthcare, opens new economic opportunities, and reduces unpaid domestic labour and gender-based violence. Yet too often, the sector as a whole – from industry to policymaking – still fails to include women as energy users, decision-makers and agents of change of the energy transition.
To succeed, the energy transition must be just. It must be done in a way that delivers sustainable energy access for all, leaving no one behind. It must be done with women. Here are three ways the clean energy sector and related policies can help to unleash the power of women for a just energy transition.
1. Accelerating action on clean cooking, which is a vast health crisis impacting women disproportionately
Household air pollution leads to a staggering 3.8 million premature deaths each year – nearly half of all air pollution-related deaths – 60 percent of which are women and children. This is driven by a lack of access to clean technologies and fuels for cooking, which directly impacts a third of the world’s population yet receives little attention and action. 2.6 billion people rely on solid fuels for cooking, which comes at significant health and social costs that disproportionately impact women and children. Most of them live in sub-Saharan Africa, in the world’s poorest and most remote communities.
In these communities, women and children are often in charge of collecting wood for cooking and heating, spending up to 18 hours a week doing so. They are vulnerable to sexual violence on their routes. They also breathe in harmful gas every day from open fires or inefficient stoves while cooking.
Clean cooking solutions such as electrical or more efficient stoves not only improve the lives of billions of women by freeing up time that can be used for education, income-generating activities, or rest and leisure; they also save millions of women’s and children’s lives each year.
Yet too often, clean cooking is not seen as the policy priority it is. While a lot of progress has been made in the past decade when it comes to access to electricity – with the number of people lacking electricity decreasing from 1.2 billion in 2010 to 759 million in 2019 – relative progress on clean cooking has been much slower, with the number of people lacking access to clean cooking only decreasing from 3 billion to 2.6 billion since 2010. This lack of progress maintains gender inequalities. Women’s energy needs must be identified, prioritized, and adequately addressed. This includes involving women in the design and promotion of clean cooking technologies to ensure that these adequately meet their needs.
2. Empowering women with new economic opportunities
Beyond clean cooking, access to clean energy can also open up new economic opportunities for women by supporting livelihoods and generating new sources of income.
In Yemen for instance, with UNDP’s support, a group of women have set up a private solar micro-grid near the frontlines of the conflict– bringing much-needed electricity from clean energy to their community while earning an income and pushing gender boundaries. In Peru, an energy school trains women to become clean energy entrepreneurs by teaching them to install, maintain and commercialize solar panels and improved cookstoves. In India, in the remote village of Khunti in Jharkhand, women entrepreneurs produce face masks and sanitary pads thanks to solar-powered electric sewing machines – enabling women to earn an income while providing women in rural areas with much-needed menstrual hygiene products.