How Energy Poverty Affects Women
According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), energy poverty is a worldwide phenomenon that affects the well-being of women and girls, as it undermines their living conditions as well as their educational and economic opportunities.
The OECD estimates that among its member countries, up to 30% of households live in energy poverty. This situation is exacerbated in developing countries and especially affects women, the main users and producers of household energy. Greenpeace revealed that women spend about 50% of their income to cover basic heating and cooking needs.
In regions with scarce electricity access, women and children are in charge of collecting wood to burn. In this scenario, users are likely to develop respiratory diseases due to indoor pollution generated by inefficient cooking stoves, mostly powered by firewood or kerosene and widely used in the global south. Moreover, since women generally spend more time at home than men, they are more exposed to polluting fuels and inadequate heating. The World Health Organization (WHO) stated that over 4 million people, mainly women and children, die every year as a result of indoor air pollution.
The International Network on Gender and Sustainable Energy highlights that greater access to energy contributes to poverty reduction. “Energy access saves time when it substitutes manual labor and reduces the drudgery of fetching fuel wood and water, tasks women are typically responsible for,” the article reads. In this regard, spare time creates new opportunities for paid jobs and earning a higher income. Furthermore, the benefits of a higher income reach far beyond the individual since studies have shown that women reinvest 90% of their income in their families and communities. In comparison, men reinvest only 30 to 40%.
Salinee Tavaranan, CEO and founder, SunSawang, a company in Thailand that makes green energy systems available to remote communities, said during an interview with The Atlantic that “women tend to have more confidence if they can earn more income and with that comes power.” This is why women have developed energy projects to diminish energy poverty and reduce the gender gap, as exemplified by the Solar Sister program in Africa. Solar Sister hires, trains and mentors African women to create sustainable businesses selling lamps, mobile phone chargers and clean kitchens, all portable and solar-powered. This self-employment model contributes to the economic development of their communities. “Solar Sister entrepreneurs benefit firsthand as clean energy users and provide their testimonies to educate others nearby about the benefits of solar and clean cooking solutions,” The UN pointed out.
Similarly, Solar Mamas, an initiative by Barefoot College International, trains women from impoverished communities to become solar engineers. The project started in India in 1972. Since then, it has welcomed women from all over the world. In February 2020, Alika Santiago, Elide del Socorro López and Vilma López, three Mayan women from Bacalar, Quintana Roo came back from a six-month training program in Rajasthan, India. There, they learned how to build and install solar systems, from LED lamps, charge controllers and solar lanterns to home lighting systems. Likewise, they received training in the maintenance and repair of these systems, as well as in the installation of rural electrical workshops to provide such services in their communities.
Inclusive projects like Solar Sister and Solar Mamas are key to extending electricity access and tackling energy poverty in marginalized communities. Additionally, promoting clean energy such as solar, through affordable technologies can be central to the achievement of more inclusive and sustainable societies.