by Fahima Dassu- Renew’N’Able Malawi
Whilst the links between gender and poverty have been tirelessly explored there still exists a gap in tackling an element of poverty that can occupy up to a quarter of a rural woman’s time, largely affecting her health and is fundamental in developing her gender-strategic interests: energy.
The ‘Development Dividend’ has gathered more attention and accelerated the understanding of energy access and its role in improving aspects of education, healthcare and livelihoods amongst other development concerns. hilst the links between gender and poverty have been tirelessly explored there still exists a gap in tackling an element of poverty that can occupy up to a quarter of a rural woman’s time, largely affecting her health and is fundamental in developing her gender-strategic interests: energy.
It is no hidden secret that women and men are affected differently by energy access or the lack thereof. The energy-poverty nexus has distinct gender characteristics. Majority of people living in low-income countries rely mostly on biomass as their main source of energy. As such, in many areas there is an increasing shortage in its supply, which often adds to the burden of the women who are responsible for collecting biomass. Of the approximate 1.3 billion people living in poverty, it is estimated that 70% are women. It is important to take note of this fact, not only because men and women have differing energy needs and may have different ideas about sustainable livelihoods, but also because women and men have different access to resources and decision-making capabilities. Women’s access to decision-making within the household and community is restricted, limiting their ability to influence processes and resource allocation on many pertinent issues such as energy. As such, gender blind energy policies tend to women’s vital local knowledge and their influencing capacity within households and communities.
Undoubtedly, gender equality is intrinsic in the delivery of energy access. Because women are profoundly affected by energy poverty and are the main users of household energy, ultimately, they should be empowered as agents of change in the transition to cleaner energies and should spearhead the fight against energy poverty, as energy service providers or at a minimum, be given the platform to inform just-energy systems.
Welfare based energy models acknowledge that women carry the most significant burden of energy poverty and should therefore speak about their energy aspirations whilst being given the platform to propose energy policies and alternatives rather than to impose patriarchal perspectives, male dominated programs and solutions that have until now, dominated the ‘energy delivery sphere’. The creation of women-only forums as tried by WoMin (a South-African based, women-centred network of organisations) are a step in the right direction. Women are encouraged to discuss and define their energy needs and are empowered to be at the fore-front of energy solutions within their communities.
If gender aspects of the energy-poverty nexus are to be adequately dealt with, two major transformations must take place. Firstly, women must be empowered to make choices about energy. They should be able to act upon the energy choices open to them. This needs to go beyond improvements on the access to financial resources. Enabling choice requires the promotion of strategies that enable the inclusion of women at all stages of energy service and delivery programs.
Secondly, changes are required on the energy supply-side. Finance needs to flow faster to support gender-responsive and socially inclusive energy access solutions along the entire energy value chain. Direct capital is needed for such businesses to support faster delivery of sustainable energy solutions, alongside efficient equipment and appliances for household and productive use needs.
One thing rings true now more than ever; women need to be at the centre of all actions and be empowered as active decision makers. Business as usual solutions are not working to deliver energy access to women and the most vulnerable, particularly those living in urban slums and rural parts of sub-Saharan Africa. Gender-responsive and socially inclusive energy businesses need to support faster delivery of sustainable access solutions. Women need to be empowered to participate in the energy value chain at all levels.
Sustainable development is not possible without access to energy, and energy access is vital for women’s development and is also shaped by their empowerment. Promoting the inclusion of women and the poorest people in society can help secure a just energy transition.
Photo Credit: RENAMA (Malawi)
Fahima Dassu is the Resource Mobilisation and Advocacy Manager. She holds a Masters of International Development from the University of Western Australia where she lived for 5 years as well as a background in socio-legal studies. With a passion for all things gender she hopes to mainstream the issue of gender in Renew’N’Able Malawi’s activities.
About RENAMA: Renew’N’Able Malawi (RENAMA) is a non-governmental, humanitarian development organisation and energy sector think tank. RENAMA is based in Blantyre, Malawi. Their mission is to enhance knowledge transfer, information exchange and common learning in order to contribute to the sustainable development of a healthy energy sector. Apart from this, the RENAMA team implements innovative pilot research and development projects around the nexus of AWARENESS, ACCESS and AFFORDABILITY related to reducing energy poverty and increased last-mile access to clean energy sources.
RENAMA has extensive experience in stimulating the realisation of women’s rights through its ongoing field projects . Currently, the organisation supports women micro-entrepreneur groups (in semi-urban and rural communities) through the establishment of “Smart Energy Hubs”. The women have been trained and supported in a number of ways including being trained to produce recycled briquettes derived from waste biomass. The ongoing training has included business and financial management skills, group dynamic skills, technology knowledge and transfer of other relevant skills to ensure the sustainability of projects as well as to improve the status of women as managers of energy production. For details, visit: http://www.renewnablemalawi.org/