Women and energy
For this International Women’s Day special edition, our CEO Catherine Gras discusses why energy can be a lever to reduce gender inequalities.
For this International Women’s Day special edition, I focus on women through the lens of energy exploring how energy issues can impact differently on women, why energy can be a lever to reduce gender inequalities and how women can contribute to the energy transition.
Access to energy in developing countries is a major source of gender inequalities
According to IEA’s Energy Access Outlook, women in many developing countries spend on average 1.4 hours a day collecting fuelwood. The time spent gathering fuel reduces their capacity to participate in other beneficial activities like education.
The UN estimates that 58 million children worldwide do not attend school and 100 million do not complete their primary education. A majority of these children are girls who stay at home to assist their mothers with household tasks.
The development of modern energy in developing countries can thus bring a variety of benefits:
- Electrical equipment at home reduces the amount of time spent on household work, thus reducing the ‘time poverty’ of women. (‘Time poverty’ is defined as a lack of time for rest and leisure after accounting for time spent working, whether in the formal labour market or at home)
- Access to electricity brings lighting into homes which can create additional hours for studying
- And last but not least, street lighting improves women’s security, enabling them to travel to and from work or school safely
This is also a problem in Europe where, women particularly single mothers and retired women are more likely than men to live in energy poverty.
Poor quality fuels create significant health issues with the strongest impact on women
Cooking with traditional fuelwood takes longer than using modern energy. In developing countries, women spend on average 4 hours per day cooking.
The use of traditional biomass or fuelwood in cooking and heating leads to an increase in health issues linked to poor indoor air quality. According to the UN Development Program (UNDP), 2 million people die worldwide each year for that reason, disproportionally affecting women and young children.
Moreover, the practice of using open wood fires or “primitive” stove is said to generate almost 20% of global greenhouse emissions according to a UNDP study from 2011, citing IEA data.
Climate change is affecting more women than men
Women are often responsible for gathering and producing food, collecting water and sourcing fuel for heating and cooking. With climate change, these tasks are becoming more difficult. Because women undertake these activities largely on foot, increased scarcity of resources means more time spent to collect them.
Extreme weather events such as droughts and floods have a greater impact on the poor and most vulnerable – and 70% of the world’s poor are women. In most countries, women have limited ability to freely move and acquire land, and face violence that escalates during periods of instability.
Acting on climate change and providing access to modern energy sources is crucial in reducing gender inequalities. By doing these things, we can relieve women of tedious tasks and provide them more time to engage in activities that are more productive to them and society.
Energy can change the lives of women. But can women change energy ?
Women are currently under-represented not only in the energy industry, but also in the decision making bodies that are dealing with energy as an issue.
A paper published recently by IEA shows that women occupied 13.9% of senior management positions in the energy sector worldwide in 2019. The highest proportion is in energy utilities at 17.1%, with renewable energy firms well below the sector average at just 10.8%.
In Europe, the proportion of women in the energy sector is 22.1% on average. (This figure represents all positions occupied by women rather than just senior positions, and a significant proportion of those roles are in non-technical functions.)
The gender gap is also very significant when looking at decision makers: influential positions in ministries are mostly male dominated. In 2019, only 4 countries in the EU had a female energy or environment minister. At COP26 in Glasgow in 2021, among the 130 presidents and prime ministers present, fewer than 10 were women!
Although the trend is improving slightly, there is still a significant gender gap in the number of women in positions to influence the energy transition, both in the corporate sector as well as in the public sector.
This difference between men and women cannot be explained only by different education choices. The difference comes also from post education decisions. To improve the situation, we need to make our sector attractive for young women and, most importantly offer them the opportunity to develop their skills inside this sector and to make a career that will fulfill their aspirations.
A more inclusive energy sector
I would like to finish on a more positive note. We would all benefit from more women in influential positions and this will be my conclusion, a call for a more inclusive energy sector.
Various studies show that as consumers, women tend to choose greener and fairer products than men. They are also more willing to pay the so called green premium. But this finding is counterbalanced by the fact that women on average receive a lower income than men. Therefore the question of affordability of energy and green products is central to them.
A study from Yale University shows that, although men and women have a similar understanding of the origin and impact of global warming, women have a higher perception of the risks involved with climate change and of the need for policy changes to deal with the problem.
Last but not least, women, especially from younger generations, are taking the stage to push for climate action. Women are very well represented among the young activists including Greta Thunberg, who is maybe the most emblematic of them all. They are urging us to act quickly.
For those who want to go further, a selection of papers around this topic