Research: Gender, Energy & Society
"Poverty means, among other things, limited access to energy sources. Poverty influences and determines energy choices of poor households. There is a gender bias in rural energy poverty, too, because the main source of energy in poor rural households is not biomass - it is women's labor. The real energy crisis in rural areas is women's time." -Elizabeth Cecelski, Director for Research and Advocacy, ENERGIA
Energy is a basic necessity for survival and a fundamental input to economic and social development but in the past, energy policies have mainly been focused on the energy supply side - increasing supplies of electricity and liquid fuels – with little attention paid to the energy demand characteristics of rural communities and women in particular.
Worldwide, more than two billion people lack access to sustainable and modern energy services, using traditional solid fuels for cooking and heating. Without access to basic energy services for lighting, cooking, heating, pumping, transportation, communication and other productive purposes, people – most often women - are forced to spend the majority of their time and physical energy on subsistence activities. Lack of energy services is directly correlated with the major elements of poverty, including inadequate healthcare, low education levels and limited employment opportunities.
Development literature has recently embraced the term “feminization of poverty” referring to growing gap between men and women caught in the cycle of poverty – 70% of the 1.5 billion people living on less than a dollar a day are women (UNDP, 1995 Human Development Report). It is increasingly evident that gender differentiates the societal processes leading to poverty and the escape routes out. Women living in poverty are consistently without access to key resources such as credit, land and inheritance. Their labor is unrewarded and unrecognized. Their health care and nutritional needs are not given priority, they lack sufficient access to education and support services, and their participation in decision-making at home and in the community are minimal. Caught in the cycle of poverty, women lack access to resources and services to change their situation.
Gender issues have come to the forefront in many development sectors including agriculture, forestry and water but the energy sector has been slow to acknowledge the links between gender equality, energy and development. Traditional energy policies have inadequately addressed the role of energy as an input to development and have largely ignored the critical role women play in energy systems, particularly in rural areas. Insufficient access to modern energy and existing patterns of energy use, processing, and collection affect women and men differently. Because of their socially determined gender roles, women and girls assume a higher proportion of the burden of unavailable energy services and inefficient energy use.
"Cooking consumes more fuel than any other activity in rural areas of low-income countries."
- Advancing Gender Equality, World Bank (2000)
Women spend more time than men on basic subsistence activities, such as gathering fuel-wood, carrying water, and cooking. According to the World Bank (2001) women of all developing countries spend between 2-9 hours a day collecting fuel and fodder, and performing cooking chores. The opportunity cost of these activities frequently prevents women from undertaking income-generating activities, which deprives poor families of much needed income. When rural women do engage in income-generating activities they are performed together with regular domestic work and are generally home-based micro-enterprise or piece rate projects (sewing, weaving, preparing food to sell, etc.) Home lighting, agro-processing, drinking water pumping and more efficient stoves can reduce women’s workloads, provide income earnings and improve women’s health.
More than half of the world’s households cook with wood, animal waste, crop residues and untreated coal, exposing primarily women and children to indoor air pollution, which according to the World Health Organization, is responsible for the premature death of over 2 million women and children a year worldwide from respiratory infections. In rural India, shifting from fuel wood to cleaner sources of energy, like kerosene or LPG, halves the mortality rate of children under five (World Bank, 2001).
Gender, Development and Energy Lecture Series
The Gender, Society and Energy project commenced in March 2005 with a lecture called "Gender, Development and Energy," co-sponsored by the Baker Institute and Rice's Program for the Study of Women and Gender. The lecture was an opportunity to draw attention to issues relating to gender, poverty and economic development in international energy policy debates.
The energy sector should play a positive role in alleviating poverty with economically and environmentally sustainable policies - engendering energy is the path to achieving this goal. It is not enough to do an analysis of the differential impacts of proposed energy projects on men and on women - engendering energy requires a full recognition of men's and women's different needs for energy, recognition of the potential for both men and women to participate in the supply of energy, and dismantling the institutional barriers that limit women's participation in energy planning and production and in their access to energy for a variety of end uses.
Research Presentations are available on the following event page:
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Houston, Tx - March 31, 2005