Want to empower women across the world? Invest in clean energy solutions.
Consider this: A study in India found that women have an average working day of 11-14 hours compared to 10 hours for men, and similar differences have been found in Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Uganda and Tanzania. It’s clear that clean energy technologies that reduce the amount of time required for household tasks — such as collecting firewood and cooking over an open flame — allow room for other activities. Women may choose to spend this free time on income-generating activities, bonding with their families, pursuing more education, or leisure, or socializing with friends. Just having the ability to decide how to spend one’s time is empowering.
But it’s not just about the freedom of time — it’s about economic opportunity.
Through recent work with the Rockefeller Foundation, we outline how access to clean energy can help female entrepreneurs to:
- Create new enterprises that use energy (e.g., tailoring),
- Convert existing enterprises to productive energy use (e.g., agricultural processing), or
- Expand operations of enterprises that are using low-quality energy sources, which is often the case with government-provided electricity.
As an example, many programs have found that solar lanterns can be very transformative in increasing women’s mobility, and particularly safety while traveling. An assessment we conducted with Solar Sister found that women felt safer at night walking to the latrine or taking care of livestock in the fields. Youth reported being able to safely socialize with friends. Women were also able to keep their businesses open later at night with the use of the solar lanterns.
While there are still major obstacles to gender equity, engaging women in clean energy value chains — increasing their income, leadership, and communication skills — can begin to help shift patriarchal power structures.
What You Can Do
Be inclusive. If there is no concerted, intentional effort to include women in tech-based energy projects, they will be left out. Donors and implementers should think about hiring more women or partnering with more female entrepreneurs who design, produce, distribute or sell products in this market (the aforementioned Solar Sister is one good example). Given the evolving nature of the global economy, and the fact that women make up about 50 percent of the population, it is in the best interests of companies and organizations to integrate women at every step.
Listen. The #MeToo movement and social media have been catalytic in drawing attention to sexual harassment in the workplace and the power imbalances that perpetuate these abuses, as well as the cover-ups. As more women are hired into energy initiatives, companies need to be thinking about how to create a culture that will enable women to not only feel safe, but to thrive.
Measure & Create. We need to continue to build the evidence base to understand how women and girls are impacted by energy access and engaged throughout clean energy value chains. We already have tools to measure the social impacts of women’s engagement in clean cooking value chains and use of clean cooking products/services, but we need to expand the use of these and other tools to see patterns in what is working. We can then use this information to help organizations create products and business models that maximize these impacts not only for a greener planet, but also for a more equitable world.
Original contribution by Allie Glinski, Gender & Evaluation Specialist, International Center for Research on Women (ICRW).
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