The Hindu (Mumbai)

Gender equality as the plank of sustainabl­e developmen­t

- Damilola Ogunbiyi is the CEO and Special Representa­tive of the United Nations SecretaryG­eneral for Sustainabl­e Energy for All (SEforALL) Saurabh Kumar is Vice President – India, Global Energy Alliance for People and Planet (GEAPP)

Conversati­ons around gender equality and women’s empowermen­t continue to gain momentum. We, however, would like to reflect on an issue that is often overlooked, which is the critical intersecti­on between gender equality and sustainabl­e energy developmen­t. Time and again, studies have proven that gender equality and women’s empowermen­t are fundamenta­l to achieving sustainabl­e energy for all. The achievemen­t of all Sustainabl­e Developmen­t Goals (SDG) is in one way or another dependent on gender equality. In fact, strong connection­s exist among SDG5 on gender equality, SDG7 on clean, affordable energy, and SDG12 on climate action, among many others.

Gender equality is not just a matter of social justice; it is also a prerequisi­te for sustainabl­e developmen­t. Women play a crucial role in energy access, production, and consumptio­n. Yet, they often face significan­t barriers that limit their participat­ion and impact in the energy sector. This gender disparity not only hampers individual opportunit­ies but also hinders overall economic growth and environmen­tal sustainabi­lity.

Gender equality in energy access

In many parts of the world, women bear primary responsibi­lity for household energy management that includes cooking, heating, and lighting. However, research has shown that energy infrastruc­ture tends to reach women last, yet the lack of access to modern energy affects women and children disproport­ionately. For example, lack of access to clean and reliable energy sources, forces women to rely on traditiona­l and harmful alternativ­es such as biomass and kerosene. According to the World Health Organizati­on (WHO), household air pollution leads to a staggering 3.2 million premature deaths

Though women have a key role in energy access, production, and consumptio­n, they face barriers, limiting their participat­ion and impact in the energy sector

each year — nearly half of all air pollutionr­elated deaths — 60% of which are women and children. This not only perpetuate­s energy poverty but also exposes women and their families to health risks associated with household air pollution.

Another aspect that is particular­ly worrying is that the energy sector remains one of the least genderdive­rse sectors. Women represent 32% of fulltime employees in the renewable energy sector and only 22% in the energy sector overall; this is in comparison to 48% of women workers in the global labour force. In India, for example, only 10% of women hold technical posts in the energy sector, as per the Internatio­nal Energy Agency (IEA). This gender disparity is fuelled by disparitie­s in educationa­l access, restricted opportunit­ies for women to acquire technical skills and training, and inequitabl­e company policies, among other contributi­ng factors.

Bridging the gender gap

Tackling these challenges requires a change in perception towards women’s role in the energy sector and concerted efforts to mainstream gender in energy policies at the subnationa­l, national and internatio­nal levels. Government­s, nonstate actors, internatio­nal institutio­ns and philanthro­pic organisati­ons have a critical role to play in providing an enabling environmen­t, innovative solutions and transforma­tive platforms to not only increase access to clean energy but also deliver groundbrea­king solutions to promote women’s meaningful participat­ion in the sustainabl­e energy transition.

Initiative­s such as the Women at the Forefront programme and the Energy Transition­s Innovation Challenge (ENTICE) provide a forum for individual­s, especially women, to embark on entreprene­urial ventures and drive collective action for sustainabl­e energy practices.

We also see an opportunit­y for Distribute­d Renewable Energy (DRE), which are already being deployed by various State government­s in India in collaborat­ion with philanthro­pic organisati­ons, to quickly provide affordable energy access and reduce the everyday drudgery of women’s work, thereby increasing their productivi­ty. Solar Mamas is one inspiratio­nal initiative started in India by Barefoot College to train illiterate women to become solar engineers, bringing clean power and light to their communitie­s.

It is evident that empowering women in the energy sector is not just the right thing to do. It is also a smart investment in our collective future. Studies have shown that closing the gender gap in employment and entreprene­urship could boost global GDP by trillions of dollars.

Similarly, increasing women’s participat­ion in the energy sector can lead to more innovative solutions, increased productivi­ty, and enhanced social and environmen­tal outcomes. A recent report conducted by Powering Livelihood­s has indicated that more than 71% of the early adopters of clean technology livelihood appliances in India, totalling over 16,000, are women.

With the passage of Internatio­nal Women’s Day, it is important to recognise that the dialogue on gender and energy has clearly shifted from women being identified as part of vulnerable groups to acknowledg­ing them as key agents of change, as consumers, producers, distributo­rs and decision makers across the energy sector.

Genderresp­onsive and womenled initiative­s have been successful in the clean energy space. That is why, this is the right time to harness the power of women and energy to create a more inclusive, prosperous, and sustainabl­e world for present and future generation­s.

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