We must deliver gender justice

August 26, 2021

By Silvia Sartori, Women’s Economic Empowerment Program Manager, ENERGIA International Network on Gender and Sustainable Energy  | This article was originally published on The Guide – Season 3 | 2021 by Enlit

The just energy transition represents two core sustainable development goals as formulated by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs: access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all; and gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls.

“Tapping into the potential of cleaner energies by embedding social justice and equality is becoming less of an option and more of a necessity.”

A just energy transition is more than a technological move from one type of energy to a new and cleaner one. It is also more than a strategy intended to combat the climate crisis. The goals of a just energy transition go hand in hand with those of climate justice. They aim to redesign our societies, economies, political systems, international relations and trade agreements so that social and gender justice are just as important as environmental and technological considerations.

Why women are at the center of our work

For us at ENERGIA International Network on Gender and Sustainable Energy, both ensuring universal access to sustainable energy and addressing gender inequalities are at the very heart of our work. We work towards gender inclusion in all aspects of energy policies, practice and programming as well as throughout the energy value chain. In short, women are at the center of our efforts to achieve a just energy transition and climate justice.

This is because girls and women are the backbone of our society.

They make up the greater part of the care economy, as the Covid-19 crisis has dramatically highlighted. Women remain the prime carers for young, ageing and most vulnerable family members and represent 70 per cent of the health care workforce. And looking after the wellbeing of the household is still strongly considered as a woman’s responsibility, including procuring food and, in the developing world, energy.

For the more than 2.6 billion people worldwide still lacking access to clean cooking, this translates into hours spent every day to collect firewood and in prolonged daily exposure to hazardous smokes emitted by inefficient cook stoves which are estimated to account for about 2.5 million premature deaths every year, a number that has likely gone up since the Covid-19 pandemic.

In addition, a significant component of the traditional workforce in climate-sensitive sectors, most notably agriculture, is still accounted for by women.

Nonetheless, despite being at the frontline of energy-related services, girls and women bear the brunt of energy poverty in a world where, before Covid-19, about 770 million people still lived without electricity access, a figure expected to have increased after the pandemic outbreak.

Concurrently, women are the least represented in decision-making fora. As a result, women’s needs, talents and views remain substantially unheard. When new energy projects are conceived or new energy products are designed and launched in the markets, they do not generally take into account the impact on women, thus failing to acknowledge and mitigate unintended negative effects.

Making headway with local communities

In Africa and Asia, the regions where ENERGIA has traditionally worked, we are cooperating with local and regional stakeholders, including civil society organizations and regulatory bodies, to foster inclusive consultation mechanisms, mainstream gender into renewable energy projects, develop enabling policy environments, leverage the potential of women as change agents, and support women’s entrepreneurship in the clean energy space.

Our experience shows that local communities have the potential to benefit dramatically from a transition away from fossil fuels to renewable energies that is conceived and rolled out in an inclusive and participatory manner.

Especially rural areas, which to date are still vastly deprived of electricity access, can enjoy the ‘luxury’ of access to energy through simple and affordable technologies. And women’s networks and groups keep proving to be most instrumental in facilitating the access of last-mile households and communities to clean energy solutions.

More time for women to invest in themselves

This in turn can revitalize local economies by creating new value chains and generating new jobs (for both women and men), while minimizing labour migration, enhancing access to education, and improving health and safety.

Girls and women are amongst those who have the highest stakes. Access to distributed renewable energy releases them from the task of collecting biomass, and they can invest the newly saved time in income-generating activities, study or leisure.

Having access to electricity in the community generally improves public lighting and safety, which furthermore enhances women’s mobility. The ensuing virtuous cycle benefits households and communities at large, with proven positive effects on the provision of health care and the wellbeing of children, and ultimately strengthening resilience.

The ingredients for a truly just and sustainable transition

In our experience, for the energy transition to be truly just and sustainable, it is essential that representatives of all different community groups and members are effectively and meaningfully consulted and engaged at all stages of the design and development of an energy project.

Social and environmental audits are important tools to utilize prior to the implementation of a new plan.

Likewise, collection of gender-disaggregated data and a clear monitoring plan inclusive of gender-related targets and indicators will ensure that the benefits for and impact on men and women are analyzed throughout the process, so that mitigation measures and remedies can be timely adopted.

It is equally critical that a conducive policy- framework is in place, with fair representation, due diligence, compliance mechanisms and procedures.

Transparency and accountability improve governance and local ownership, which are key towards long-term resilience and contribute to peace and stability.

Political frameworks should be strongly aligned to the major international agreements, including on human rights, the SDGs and the principles of the Paris Agreement.

At the macro level, this also requires decision- makers and investors to adhere to coherent policy and financial decisions where renewable energy projects are to be supported both domestically and overseas, while plans and strategies are to be developed in order to phase out fossil fuel projects and investments.

There is no better time for this new journey than now

From environmental degradation to worsening climate change, from migrations and social conflicts to increasing inequalities and health hazards, the journey of fossil fuel-based economies has clearly brought under the spotlight the urgent need for a more respectful, sustainable, resilient, equitable and safe paradigm.

Tapping into the potential of cleaner energies by embedding social justice and equality is becoming less of an option and more of a necessity.

There is no better time for embarking on this new journey than now, when the world is devising strategies to “build forward better” and strengthen resilience after the global Covid-19 pandemic.

Hivos and ENERGIA

Hosted by Hivos since 2016, ENERGIA wants to contribute to universal, equal and equitable access to and control over sustainable energy for all, putting women at the center of its efforts.

To achieve its vision, ENERGIA implements several multi-year programs that:

  • contribute to energy access for all by scaling up the delivery of energy services through women-led micro and small businesses,
  • advocate for and provide technical support to mainstreaming gender approaches in energy policies and programs,
  • provide the evidence base for improving energy investment effectiveness through research,
  • raise awareness and enhance knowledge of issues related to gender and energy through networking and knowledge products.

More than 7,000 women entrepreneurs are engaged in ENERGIA’s Women’s Economic Empowerment Program.