Men and women typically have different roles in the home and the community, which means that how energy is used varies. For example, energy is used for lighting, cooking, communication (television, radio, cell phones), ironing, heating, cooling, and cottage industry applications such as brewing. It doesn’t take much imagination to figure out which tasks fall predominately to women……
Where energy services are limited women’s access—in many regions of the world—is often biomass-based and physically demanding: think about gathering firewood needed for cooking and heating. Moreover the results of these poor energy sources are often unhealthy—contributing to indoor air pollution, burns and injuries or are inferior in energy quality as seen with candles, kerosene or weak lamps for lighting.
Today, there exists a wide array of viable and cost-competitive alternatives to traditional bioenergy and carbon-based fuels that can provide reliable, clean, sustainable energy services. Queen among them are renewables, offering an unprecedented opportunity to accelerate the transition to modern energy services in remote and rural areas. Renewable energy technologies offer low-cost, decentralised options that better match the current energy demand. And while the energy service provided is not free, its pricing is not subject to the vagaries of fluctuating fuel prices nor is its availability dependent on inconsistent delivery schedules.
But renewable technologies alone are not enough. Supporting policies are also needed to accelerate the deployment these technologies and infrastructure as well as to attract investment to the sector. Fortunately there is a rise in the number of countries applying a range of formal strategies to promote renewable solutions. Energy access initiatives are integrated increasingly into broader rural development plans, with a focus on pro-poor policies and frameworks that are broad-based, attract new investment, and support local participation in developing and managing energy systems.
However as the policy environment develops in favour of clean, decentralised, affordable energy services, the role of women must not be forgotten. Men are often the decision-makers when it comes to purchasing or changing domestic energy use and access. It is therefore important to make sure that any renewable energy policy also includes gender. This is a challenge as for many traditional energy planners terms such as ‘empowerment of women’ and ‘gender mainstreaming’ appear as social concerns, far removed from decisions about fuel supplies and technology choices.
If renewables are to help close the energy poverty ‘chasm’ then renewable energy policies have to shift from technology-driven energy interventions to more integrated initiatives that take into account social and economic development needs. This shift is needed to help accelerate the penetration of renewables and raise the millions out of energy poverty.