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Empowering Women With Access to Clean and Sustainable Sources of Energy

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30 April 2012

The main afternoon session of the European Union’s recent Sustainable Energy for All Summit was dedicated to gender issues. Participants agreed that empowering women with access to sustainable, clean energy will open up a world of possibilities to benefit the entire population.
In her keynote speech to participants at the EU Sustainable Energy for All Summit held on April 16th in Brussels, Michele Bachelet, former President of Chile and now Head of UN Women, stated that 1.3 billion people live without electricity. Some 2.7 billion rely on open fires and the traditional use of biomass for cooking, and almost half of the world’s population still depends on solid fuels such as wood, dung, crop waste, coal or charcoal. Many are poor women in rural areas.

“The day when girls are not spending hours collecting wood, when they can go to school  … on that day there will be a real opportunity for gender balance,” said participant Dr Maria Niera of the World Health Organisation. “When we say that two million deaths occur every year due to smog and particles from the burning of unclean (heating and cooking) fuels, most of them are women because they are the ones that are at home and they are the most vulnerable”. 

The statistics are indeed stark.  Ummy Ali Mwalimu, Deputy Minister of Community Development, Gender and Children, Tanzania reported that according to their National Household Survey 2012, only eighteen percent of Tanzanian households have access to modern energy services. About 90% of the energy used by women in rural and semi urban areas is traditional.  Aside from health, security and educational implications, this restricts women’s participation in economic affairs. 

“We’ve been working in the energy for sector for the past 16 years,” said Shiela Oparaocha, Network Coordinator and Programme Manager of the international network for gender and sustainable energy, Energia, who operate in Africa and Asia. “We started first of all by raising awareness, with lobbying at conferences like this about why gender is important to energy.  We’ve moved on from the ‘why’ to ‘how’. How means mainly training and capacity building: working with mainstream energy actors in the country, working with utilities, working with ministries, working with rural electrification agencies to see how they can use gender tools in their work. ”

Ms Oparaocha was at the summit alongside colleagues from partner organisations in Africa who promote and implement gender friendly energy initiatives. One such organisation is Kenya Power and Lighting Company (KPLC), which is taking steps to assist women and vulnerable populations access electricity. ”Energy should not be seen as a preserve for the rich,” said Anne Elizabeth Owuor, Gender Representative at Kenya Power, “it should be a right for all; it is about transforming lives.”

KPLC has introduced initiatives to try to address the issue, including providing subsidised energy and community based energy, whereby a community requests supply and is connected when 25% of that community have paid according to KPLC’s quote.  Another initiative that is a proven hit among rural residents is the Stimaloan (which means "electricity loan" in Swahili), developed in partnership with the French Development Agency (AFD), which offers flexible microfinance to make electricity connection possible.  Bill delivery and payments are managed through mobile phone.

“This is the beginning.  We need to take it to the next stage … and we should stop talking about stoves! … With electricity (women) will have microenterprise, cottage industries … there is so much they can do with electricity,” continued Ms Owuor.

The European Commission is also working together with local partners to provide women with access to sustainable energy. The Developing Energy Enterprises Project (DEEP) funded by the European Union and the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, supports micro and small-scale clean energy enterprises in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. The project was designed to involve equal numbers of men and women but faced various challenges, like the gender disparity in accessing credit, i.e. more males than females were able to access financing. In the end, the project managed a 42% rate of female entrepreneurs. Another example concerns renewable energy in poor rural areas of Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

While there have been improvements in access to clean energy, traditional views of gender roles continue to hamper progress on the ground, said Ghana-based Dr Sabrina Anokye Mensah of Voices of African Mothers. “The main challenges have been (i) people are not recognising what women are capable of doing; then … the training of selected women to maintain and operate (energy) equipment; then gender budgeting.  Gender mainstreaming must be at all levels of energy planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation,” she said.  Voices of African mothers run workshops for gender sensitisation of women and their immediate families, especially husbands, and for local authorities and churches to assist normalisation of women’s roles, particularly in energy issues.

Gender mainstreaming remains at the heart of providing access to clean energy to women, and Shiela Oparaocha of Energia believes that more political will is required. “In the run up to the Rio+20 conference, I was very impressed (by the summit) and commend the EU and Danish Government for putting gender up-front in the discussions, across all sectors.  But we’d really like to see other governments getting on board.”

Click this link to capacity4dev’s Public Group on Energy to watch the full length video interviews by:
•    Shiela Oparaocha of Energia
•    Anne Elizabeth Owuor, Gender Representative at KPLC
•    Ummy Ali Mwalimu, Deputy Minister of Community Development, Gender and Children, Tanzania

This collaborative piece was drafted with input from Joao Nolasco, Myriam Watson, Marina Marchetti and Clemens Beckers with support from the Coordination Team.

DISCLAIMER: This information is provided in the interests of knowledge sharing and capacity development and should not be interpreted as the official view of the European Commission.

DISCLAIMER: This information is provided in the interests of knowledge sharing and capacity development and should not be interpreted as the official view of the European Commission, or any other organisation.


Considering that energy is an essential engine for economic growth, it is crucial to establish if the access to modern energy services is benefiting equally the male and female population in developing countries. Gender equality basically refers to equal rights, responsibilities and opportunities provided to women and men, boys and girls; whereby their interest, needs and priorities are taken into consideration during the project cycle right from the design and definition of priorities to the implementation, monitoring and evaluation phase. The respect towards gender issues and particularly the attainment of gender equity is seen not only as a human rights issue, but also a pre-condition and indicator of sustainable human development.

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