Why poverty is sexist: energy edition

Why poverty is sexist: energy edition


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This is part of our series of blogs exploring the facts about why poverty is sexist.

Poverty and gender inequality go hand-in-hand; girls and women in the poorest countries suffer a double whammy, of being born both in a poor country and female. To see the extent of this disadvantage, ONE analyzed the situation for girls and women in least developed countries (LDCs) across key gender indicators. On every indicator, life is significantly harder for girls and women in LDCs compared with those living in other countries. While that may not be surprising – because men in poor countries are also disadvantaged – ONE also found that the gender gap between males and females is larger in the poorest countries.

Today we’re taking a closer look at the challenges girls and women face when it comes to a lack of access to energy.

Around 19% of the world’s population, or 1.3 billion people, have no access to electricity at all.

Energy poverty (lack of access to safe, reliable, modern energy) is a crucial issue for women, as it results in:

– Premature deaths from cooking with unsafe and unhealthy fuel sources

– Wasted time in the collection of fuel (to say nothing of the dangers involved in collecting it)

– Insufficient provision of health services, inability to properly store and process agricultural harvests

– Lower quality of education

Further, many African businesses have cited the lack of reliable energy access as the biggest obstacle to growth.

In most countries, women tend to be in charge of cooking. When they cook over open fires or traditional stoves, they breathe in pollutants every day. This indoor smoke is responsible for over half a million deaths annually due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease among women worldwide.

Around 60% of refrigerators used for vaccine storage in African health clinics have an unreliable electricity supply, compromising the effectiveness of life-saving children’s vaccines. Unreliable energy access for clinics also means the risk of unsafe delivery for women forced to give birth in the dark.

Women in sub-Saharan Africa currently spend up to eight hours per day collecting fuel for cooking and heating their homes; access to energy would mean that women could spend this time on income-generating pursuits.

In one study, women’s employment in South Africa increased by 9.5% where electricity was provided, most probably because it released women from home production and enabled them to participate in micro-enterprises and other economic pursuits.

Data on the direct positive effects of energy access for women on local and national economies are still too thin to draw direct global or even regional conclusions, but examples in a number of localities are proving promising. It is clear that providing reliable access to safe energy for all who lack it would improve educational opportunities, health service delivery, agricultural productivity and women’s safety.

Universal access to safe, sustainable, affordable, reliable and modern energy services must be achieved, while access to finance and capacity-building resources in energy sector innovation, particularly for women, should be prioritized.

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