Gender in the transition to energy for all: From evidence to inclusive policies

ENERGIA, in collaboration with nine research teams, is delighted to release a new report “Gender in the transition to energy for all: From evidence to inclusive policies” presenting a synthesis of the evidence generated by the five-year research programme. Our Gender and Energy Research Programme, supported by the UK’s Department for International Development (DfID), as part of its Sustainable Energy Access and Gender programme, aims to generate and analyse empirical evidence related to the benefits that taking a gender approach has for energy access interventions, and to translate this evidence into recommendations for energy policy and practice.


Following the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, policy- and decision makers, governments, multilateral organisations, private companies, and civil society organisations, at both international and national level, have been called to take action on ending poverty and other deprivations. The Agenda recognizes 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), focused on thematic issues, including water, energy, climate, oceans, urbanization, transport, science and technology. Since the beginning, ENERGIA has actively worked on SDG7 on energy access and SDG5 on gender equality, and their interconnection. Our experience suggests that energy access and gender equality are inextricably linked, and addressing them together can offer multiple development gains. Indeed, to enhance energy access and achieve related sustainable development goals, women are central players because of their role as household and natural resources managers, food producers, and educators. Hence, striving for gender equality and therefore for the application of a gender lens to energy programmes and policies, is the key to social and economic development.

The new report released by ENERGIA, in collaboration with nine research teams, gathers the empirical evidence related to the benefits that taking a gender approach has for energy access interventions, with the aim to translate this evidence into recommendations for energy policy and practice. Reforming the energy sector in a more gender-sensitive way through obtained evidence is a pivotal step for the improvement of women’s and girls’ living conditions, and the impact of informed energy sector interventions leads to more effective outcomes. To respond to this objective, the five-year research programme, supported by the UK’s Department for International Development (DfID), explored six thematic areas: electrification, productive uses of energy, energy sector reform, role of the private sector in scaling up energy access, the political economy of energy sector policies, and women’s energy entrepreneurship. Titled “Gender in the transition to energy for all: From evidence to inclusive policies”, the synthesis report identifies six key messages from nine research areas and two commissioned reports, and develops a number of policy implications and recommendations to create a gender-inclusive environment in the energy sector.

Universal energy access targets are unlikely to be met unless energy policies are aligned to women’s as well as men’s energy needs, their assets, skills, limitations and capabilities, and existing gender norms
The research emphasises that men and women have different energy needs, control over and access to energy resources and services. To be effective and not gender-neutral, energy policies must address this differentiation to ensure equitable access to energy services between men and women. Therefore, a focus on women’s energy needs, and consequently on social and cultural norms which influence differences in capabilities, can contribute to a more equal access to and use of energy for women and men. The relevance of bringing a gender perspective to energy planning, analysis and project design is still not widely reflected in energy policies. However, the research teams found signs of positive improvement towards gender-aware policies in different contexts. Among these, in Tanzania, the 2015 National Energy Policy promotes a balanced participation of men and women in the energy sector (RA6). In Nepal, there has been an evolution from women being identified as passive beneficiaries (2006 Rural Energy Policy), to identifying specific goals of time and drudgery in the 2013 National Energy Strategy, to a more active role of promoting use of renewable energy by women for productive purposes (Renewable Energy Subsidy Policy 2016) (RA1). Nigeria’s 2013 National Energy Policy includes as one of its primary objectives: [to] ‘promote gender sensitivity and draw special attention to rural needs’, although women’s needs are defined as primarily related to their care economy tasks in the household (Energy Commission of Nigeria, 2013) (RA4). Further, the synthesis report stresses that addressing gender inequality in policy outcomes requires a transformation of processes, also within the organisations responsible for these processes. In a sector dominated by men, women should be supported in filling jobs in the energy sector, particularly in decision-making and technical functions. A second transformation could be in ways of working to be more gender-aware and gender-sensitive.

Involvement of women in energy-system supply chains is good for women and their families, and it is good for business
The study highlights that involving women in the energy-system supply chains is a win-win situation. Despite the key barriers for greater women participation in the energy sector and the means to overcome them – which have been outlined in the report – women engaging in energy businesses is good for women, their families and communities, and the business itself. Just like men, women have business growth aspirations, as stated by the study conducted in the street food sector (RA2). There was a similar finding for enterprises in Ghana, which covered a wider range of products and services, and in Tanzania (RA6). The research in Rwanda (RA5) showed that for both men and women, the main motivation to engage in an energy business was to earn an income. If properly supported, when women are engaged in the energy-system supply chain, multiple effects are seen. Women reinvest their earnings in the well-being of their families (RA5, RA6, RA7), such as in education, healthcare and children’s welfare. Further, women’s involvement builds self-confidence, contributing to increasing women’s agency and challenging gender norms. In particular their involvement can change men’s beliefs in what women can do. To overcome social and cultural barriers, women need a complete pallet of support, from training to mentoring and finance support, from agency building to market linkages. For energy businesses, women are central actors as they access untapped markets, build trusting relationships with potential customers and provide service quality which builds customer confidence.

Modern energy services for women’s productive uses contribute to women’s empowerment
Statistical data from Ghana and Tanzania state that productive uses of energy can contribute to women’s economic empowerment (RA6). However, this positive correlation is not automatic. It depends largely on the economic context and embedding of the enterprise, and the skills and ambitions of the entrepreneurs. Because of the different roles that society assign to women and men, and the challenges they face, the use of energy for productive purposes affect women and men differently. Indeed, multiple studies (RA1, RA2, RA6) show that women and men differ in the activities they engage in, with different responsibilities and income, both in agricultural and non-agricultural production. Productive use of energy is strongly embedded in gender and social norms, and empowerment impacts depend on a number of complementary factors.

End-use appliances that deliver modern energy services to reduce drudgery and save time can transform gender roles and relations
End-use appliances such as fans for space cooling, phone charging for communication, sewing machines or hair clippers for trades, are crucial for the provision of modern energy services, as they convert modern energy supplies into basic or business-related services. Findings from Kenya, India and Nepal (RA1) investigate the impact of electricity-powered appliances both at household level as well as community level. Positive effects have been identified in reduction in women’s drudgery and time saving for productive activities and leisure, both for men and women (RA1, RA3, RA4, RA5). End-use appliances can bring transformative changes in gender roles and gender equality, by enabling women to undertake jobs traditionally barred to them due to requiring strength, and by freeing up time spent in drudgery-filled tasks. However, women face major challenges in acquiring appliances due to their high cost. Financing efforts are needed to enable women’s access.

Improving the affordability, reliability, capacity and convenience of modern energy services can help achieve gender-equitable outcomes, and will be critical for universal energy access
The research identifies affordability of modern energy as a bottleneck in access to and use of energy services not only for low-income households, but also for micro and small enterprises, particularly those in the informal sector. Further, the report dives into the role of subsidies (RA4), and other instruments for improving energy access, particularly for women. Other important characteristics that determine energy choices include reliability, capacity and location of the energy services, which has a strong gender implication. Reliability is seen to impact household activities and business development. Explanatory examples are reported by RA6. Poor electricity supply is pinpointed as the biggest obstacle to growth for 25% of enterprises in Tanzania and 19% in Ghana, with women more affected by unreliable supply than men. Poor reliability also affect schools investments for computers and other educational appliances (RA1).

Engaging with political processes can help women access modern energy services and change gender norms
Entrenched gender norms impact all aspects of life, set how women and men are expected to act and behave, shape opportunities for women and men. These norms change according to cultures, so context matters. The report provides an in-depth analysis of how gender norms affect access to and use of modern energy services and appliances, in the household and in micro and small-scale enterprises. This includes the barriers to women’s involvement in the energy supply chain as energy entrepreneurs. Within households, men have a major decision-making power about most issues related to daily life (RA1), with some variations when it comes to cooking fuels (RA4). In the domain of employment, gender norms, values, customs and habits hinder women’s empowerment, even though studies show that use of modern energy services can contribute to increasing gender equality and changing these gender norms. Women can also take advantage of political processes to gain better energy access and change gender norms. The study distinguished between different levels of decision making: micro (household), meso (for instance organisations, local government), and macro (national). Still, women’s voices in the household, in local communities, and in the policy space need further explicit support and encouragement.

The synthesis report emphasizes the urgency to meet women’s specific energy needs to achieve SDG7 on energy access for all. This awareness requires radical rethinking of how women can both benefit from and contribute to the energy transition. The incomplete understanding of gender aspects in the energy sector and the role of energy in decreasing gender inequality hinders the positive impact of SDGs and the efforts to achieve them. As first gender and energy research program of this level and scale, and the first major effort to explore the linkages between SDG5 and SDG7, this five-year DfID-supported research program contributed to filling this evidence gap.

Based on these results and analyses of the research reports, this synthesis report develops six key policy messages to improve gender-sensitive practices in the energy sector:

  • Engage both women and men in the design, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation of energy policies and programmes;
  • Involve women in energy-system value chains and employment, both by overcoming gender barriers and through equal opportunity strategies;
  • Improve the reliability, convenience and quality of energy supply to increase women’s and men’s access to and use of energy services;
  • Increase women’s ability to afford energy services through innovative financial mechanisms and through improving the enabling environment for women;
  • Multiply the social and economic impacts of energy access by targeting women’s productive uses and social infrastructure; and
  • Support women’s role in energy decision-making at household, organisational, and policy levels.

Many questions still need to be addressed, as the scope was necessarily limited to provide robust answers, and in depth insights, and many findings from this type of social research are related to the socio-cultural and policy environment. In this regard, the study indicates that ‘context matters’ and local and national research play a crucial role in designing local interventions. This research looked at the linkages and cross-cutting issues between energy, gender and poverty and we hope it will help steer local, national and international strategies down a path that embraces universal access to sustainable modern energy for all.



*The full publication “Gender in the transition to energy for all: From evidence to inclusive policies” can be accessed and downloaded here.