Women form a substantial part of the estimated 1.4 billion people who still do not have access to electricity and the 2.7 billion people who rely on open fire and traditional use of biomass for cooking and heating (OECD/IEA 2011). Women are at least half of the 1 billion people who lack access to clean drinking water, and the 2.6 billion people without access to improved sanitation services (UNEP 2011).
Women pay a higher price for these development failures across most regions and communities, particularly in developing countries, despite variations in urban and rural circumstances and in gender roles. Women are obliged to rely on unsustainable forms of energy, live and work in unhealthy environments with pollutants, and manage environmental degradation, including soil depletion, biodiversity loss, and limited natural resources. They also must confront the adverse impacts of climate change and related processes, such desertification, drought or flooding.
Women tend to experience energy poverty and the burden of unpaid work more severely than men. Without access to modern energy services, women spend an increasing number of hours on household responsibilities. In fact, women and children incur the negative impacts of fuel collection and time-consuming, unsafe, and polluting cooking technologies (World Bank and IEA 2013). Illnesses from indoor pollution have been estimated to result in more deaths of women and children annually than HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and malnutrition combined (ISD 2013). Women can spend up to 4 hours a day collecting biomass for fuel (World Bank 2011)—time that could otherwise be spent by women and girls pursuing an education, decent work, or opportunities for social or political interaction outside of the household.
Women’s limited access to productive resources, skills and technology, and leadership opportunities in energy, climate and environment decision-making forums, among other factors, are key obstacles to women’s economic empowerment. These challenges include:
- Traditional gender roles: Collection of water and fuel are often delegated to women and girls. These time- and effort-consuming tasks limit the ability of women and girls to attend school, earn a livelihood, or start a business. They can also adversely affect their health and wellbeing. Traditional gender roles can also limit women’s access to information or capacity to respond to environmental, climate, social, and political challenges.
- National policy, planning and accounting: Women’s provision of energy, water and other natural resource-based services and products to households and communities tend to be unpaid, unrecognized and undervalued in national accounts. Moreover, women’s groups often struggle to be included as stakeholders in energy, climate and environment initiatives. As a result, women’s needs and priorities tend to get marginalized in energy and environment investments and policies. Public policy frameworks, strategies and programmes often do not adequately consider the diverse roles and responsibilities of women and girls and how they are involved in production and consumption, both for household subsistence and the market.
- Information, education and training: Women and girls have limited access to education and learning opportunities in many countries, and tend not to pursue science, technology, engineering and mathematics. In OECD countries, women receive only 30% of tertiary degrees granted in science and engineering fields, and account for only 25% of academic researchers (OECD 2006). Women also lack access to training and skills development required to excel in environmental sectors.
- Employment: Women are underrepresented in the energy sector work force worldwide. In developed countries, the share of women workers in energy fields is only 20 percent, made up of women mostly in non-technical fields such as administration and public relations (ILO 2009).
- Productive resources and assets: Women’s lack of access to or ownership of land and technologies in many parts of the world restricts their ability to participate in sustainable management of natural resources and climate change, as well as education, employment and entrepreneurial opportunities.
- Leadership: Women are underrepresented in decision-making positions in the energy and environment sectors, including in ministerial positions. Worldwide, women account for 19% of all ministerial posts, but only 7% of those are in environment natural resources and energy, and a mere 3% are in science and technology (UNIDO and UN Women 2013).
Women farmers, natural resource managers, entrepreneurs and workers can advance sustainable energy, safeguard the environment, and strengthen the resilience of societies. Women can be powerful actors for change . Women’s economic empowerment brings with it health and education benefits for children and families, and offers the potential for breaking the inter-generational transmission of poverty. However, women and girls will need your contributions and support:
- If you are a legislator or policy-maker, you can (i) commit to sustainable energy and healthy environments for all; (ii) facilitate inter-sectoral dialogues and consultations among key actors from government, civil society including women’s groups, the private sector including women entrepreneurs, and women and men community leaders to formulate gender-responsive solutions; (iii) ensure that laws, strategies, policies and programmes on energy, climate change and the environment take into account the differentiated needs and contributions of women, including in the context of infrastructure and service provision; (iv) promote systematic collection of gender statistics and data disaggregated by sex; (v) ensure that budgets are planned, approved, executed, monitored, and audited in a gender-sensitive manner; (vi) allocate funds to specifically address women’s access to education, training, entrepreneurship and employment in energy, climate and environment-related fields (e.g. by providing quotas, scholarships, internships and on-the-job training); (vii) ensure that women entrepreneurs and women’s groups have the capacity to participate in public procurement processes.
- If you represent a financial institution or if you are an investor, you can (i) develop financial products, such as savings, loans and credit lines for women’s business needs, including in the green economy; (ii) create linkages with community-based micro-finance institutions with high representative of women to leverage your support; (iii) increase investment in small-scale sustainable natural resource-based businesses (such as non-timber forest products or sustainable agriculture) and in renewable energy systems managed by women entrepreneurs and women’s groups; (iv) increase investment in large-scale, renewable energy systems (e.g. based on hydropower, modern clean biomass, geothermal, wind or solar energy) that would provide significant local and global environmental gains, employ women workers, source from women entrepreneurs and significantly reduce women’s time burden.
- If you represent a large corporation or a trade- and business-support institution, you can (i) integrate women-led sustainable energy, climate and environment initiatives into your supply chain; (ii) consult women’s groups and gender experts in the design, distribution, management and consumption of sustainable energy, climate and environment solutions; and (iii) setup mentoring and training programmes for women.
- If you represent a civil society organization: you can (i) raise awareness about specific sustainable energy, climate and environment challenges faced by women in their households and communities; (ii) advocate for gender-responsive laws, strategies, policies and programmes in the energy, climate and environment-related fields; (iii) provide women with training in business and financial management; (iv) promote educational and training opportunities on sustainable energy, climate change and the environment; (v) train local women to learn about, install, operate, and maintain sustainable energy solutions in their communities; (vi) promote women leaders in decision-making processes at all levels; and (vii) promote the formation of women’s associations and networks to support transfer of knowledge, skills and information, and to engage women in local and national discussions and decision-making processes.
- If you represent a research institution: you can (i) analyze the gender-specific impacts and consequences of climate change and environmental degradation as well as of gender-responsive policies and programmes that fosters women’s economic empowerment; and (ii) use the research findings to advocate for and initiate action.
The Empower Women encourages you to exchange experiences, lessons learned and good practices on all of the above. Here are some ideas:
- Knowledge Network: Invite your own network of policy makers, business associations, mentors, young professionals, incubators, investors, and relevant organizations to the join the Empower Women so we can all connect with potential partners for successful ventures for women’s economic empowerment.
- Knowledge Library: Contribute your research results in different sectors, laws and policies and success stories about women-led initiatives in energy, climate and environment-related sectors.
- Knowledge Circles: Start or join an e-discussion and share your knowledge in the Knowledge Circle on Sustaining Energy and the Environment.
- Learning Centre: Share your free training and learning tools, for example, to enhance women’s leadership and participation in the energy and environment sectors.
- Community champion: Apply to become a community champion by emailing: email@example.com.