Gender Mainstreaming in Energy - Need

From energypedia

Gender Mainstreaming in Mini-grid

According to the United Nations Economic and Social Council, gender mainstreaming is defined as, “a strategy for making women’s as well as men’s concerns and experiences an integral dimension of the design,implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the policies and programmes in all political, economic and societal spheres so that women and men benefit equally and inequality is not perpetuated[1].

Need for Gender Mainstreaming in Energy

Energy poverty is not gender neutral. Since, men and women access/use energy for different purposes and thus, lack of it also affects them differently[2]. Access to and use of energy is determined by differnet factors such as gender roles in the society, kind of work and the resources men and women have access to.

So far, the discourse around gender and energy has been limited to household needs and address women only as the beneficiaries of energy. The existing research mostly focuses on the cooking and the heating needs of women in the household. In some cases, there has been a focus on the impact of electricity on women-led enterprises[3][4]. However, there is a need to see gender and energy beyond the household and talk about involving women in both demand and supply side of energy.

Understanding these gendered use/impacts of energy helps in designing sustainable energy solutions that benefit both men and women equally. Gender mainstreaming also acknowledges women’s contribution and involves them in all stage of renewable system design. It also helps to limit any negative impact that could occur due to the gender blind policies and planning[5].

Figure 3 summarizes why gender mainstreaming is important in energy (especially for mini-grids)

Gender based impact of energy

Gendered Impact of Energy

Access to or lack of sustainable energy has the following gendered impact on women’s lives:

Labor and Time Saving

In developing countries, women and girls are mostly responsible for collecting communal resources such as firewood, water and fodder for animals. They spend about 2-20 hours per week or even more on collecting firewood and carrying it over long distances[6]. This limits the time they would have spent on other productive or leisure activities[7][8]. Furthermore, climate change impacts such as deforestation, desertification and ecosystem imbalance have worsened the situation. Women now have to travel even further to collect communal resources that were previously nearby available [9].

Women in rural areas are mostly involved in subsistence farming and this is often labor intensive and time-consuming[8][2]. When activities such as pumping water for irrigation, grinding grains or oil pressing can be mechanized, it greatly reduces the drudgery for the women[2].

Impact on Health

In rural areas, women are mainly responsible for cooking and other household chores and use traditional fuels such as firewood, cow-dung and other biomass for cooking. The food is oftne cooked in a traditional cook stoves such as the three-stone fire. These cookstoves are highly inefficient and release toxic air pollutants such as carbon monoxide, nitrous oxide and benzene. Since the kitchens are poorly ventilated, women are often exposed to indoor air pollution. 2 million people worldwide, mostly women and children die each year from indoor air pollution[7][2]. The use of traditional fuels such as kerosene lamps and candles for lighting also result in fire burn and indoor air pollution[10].

As mentioned above, women have to collect and carry firewood over a longer distance. Across African countries, IEA estimates that women carry fuel loads that weigh from25 to 50 kg [11]. It is physically challenging to carry such heavy loads and result in health problems such as backache and miscarriages[12][2]. Solutions such as electric cooking could provide clean alternative to traditional fuels and reduce the burden on women.

Access to electricity in hospitals is another crucial need. More than 60% of health facilities in sub-Saharan Africa do not have access to electricity and over 70% of medical devices in developing countries fail due to unreliable power supply[13]. In poor energy situations, the medical staffs refer to flashlights or kerosene lamps for lighting. This increases the risk of giving birth at night and could affect the neo-natal care of babies. Hence, access to reliable electricity for health centers is neccesary for providing quality and reliable healthcare facilities to both men and women[14].

Impact on Education

Girls are usually responsible for helping their mothers collect firewood and other labor-intensive work such as grinding grains or pumping water. Access to electricity results in time saving and thus frees up time which can be spent on education. Also lighting at night extends the studying hours in the evening.

A study in Vietnam found out that in the newly electrified households, electrification resulted in an increase in enrollment rate for both boys and girl but it was not clear if electrification had a greater impact on girls as compared to boys[15].

Gender Based Violence (GBV) and Safety

Women and girls usually have to travel far-off distance for collecting firewood and other communal resources. They can become victims of gender-based violence or get bitten by other insects or snakes along the way or in the forest[16]. Unelectrified public spaces limit the women’s ability to go out in the evening and get involved in other income-generating activities. It also increases the crime or sexual violence faced by women in dimly lit or unelectrified spaces[17]. Thus, electrifying public spaces makes it safer for women. A study in Tunisia found that girls felt safer going to school in the morning after street lights were installed along the way to the school[18].

Electrification can also help to reduce the domestic violence within the household[18]. A study in Afghanistan found that after houses were electrified, the women reported reduced domestic violence. Previously, when the child cried in the dark, the husband would get irritated and use violence against the wife. After electrification, if the child cried at night, the women would immediately switch on the light and silent the child[19]. Another study in rural India found that television which was introduced after electrification reduced the domestic violence rate and increased the rate of girls going to school[18].

Women Empowerment

Access to electricity increases the income generating opportunities for women, especially in small micro enterprise such as washing and ironing clothes, selling prepared food and beauty parlors [20][18]. A study found that access to electricity increased female employment by almost 10% in newly electrified communities in South Africa[21]. Another study in Nicaragua found that after reliable electricity, the percentage of rural women working outside increased by 23%, resulting in increased income for these households[13]. It is observed that when women receive extra income, they are also most likely to invest it in the betterment of their children and family as compared to men[22]. Thus, access to increased income not only benefits the women but the entire family.

Involving women in renewable technologies also challenges the statuesque about what a woman can or cannot do as energy jobs are mostly considered man’s domain. In Kenya, women were trained as solar technicians and later hired to repair solar lanterns and install solar panels in the village. In a follow-up survey, men reported that seeing women solar technicians changed their perception about what a woman can or cannot do. The women, on the other hand, reported feeling more  confident and empowered, after the training[23].

Thus, involving women in nontraditional jobs are important to uplift women’s status in society as well as break the existing stereotypes.

Socio-economic Factors

Different socio-economic factors determine how electricity is used in the household. Some of them are discussed below:

Unequal Decision-making power

In most rural households, men hold the decision making power about what kind of electric appliances can be bought[24]. Women’s opinions are either less valued or not heard during decision-making[2]. This means that men could either buy those appliances that mostly benefit them or could reject any new appliances that benefit women[24].

In a study in Zimbabwe, although women were the ones cooking, it was the men who decided on the adoption of the solar cookers. In some cases, they even rejected solar cookers, although it was beneficial to the women[25].

Another study in Kenya, Nepal and India found that women not only had less decision-making power in terms of what electric appliances to buy but also about where to install them (e.g. will the lights be installed in kitchens or the common room). This lack of decision-making power reflects the already existing gender gaps in these countries[26]. In female-headed rural households, the decisions might represent women’s preferences, but they are also highly influenced by the prevalent gender rules and cultural restrictions. Female-headed households are also generally poorer than male-headed and have limited purchasing power for new electric appliances. In a female-headed household where the husband is working abroad, the decision-making power could be strengthen by the remittance money send back home[26].

Unequal access to resources

As compared to men, women have less access to resources such as land, credit and markets[25][2]. Land in developing countries is mostly registered under a man’s name and women only have the right to use them and not own them. If the women become widows or decide to separate from their husband, they can even lose their right to use the land[9]. This unequal access hinders a women’s ability to start a new business or expand their existing one. This also results in different demand for and use of electricity by men and women, depending on the resources they have[27].

Renewable Energy Technology (Mini-grids)

Adoption of Energy Technology is not Gender-neutral

Energy and technology are stereotypically considered men’s domain[28][29]. Factors such as prevailing gender norms, gendered impact of energy and unequal decision-making power usually restrict the adoption of new energy technologies by women. In some cases, women might have access to these technologies but do not have control over it[12]. For example, in Nepal, when biogas were installed, it were the men who decided on the biogas locations although women were the ones fetching water and cow dung as well as mixing it in the biodigesters. If women were involved in this process, they could have decided on locations which reduces the labour and time required. Men were also mostly trained in the repair and maintenance of biogas technology[12]. This could be because women were either hesitant to get involved or the gender role dictated that only men carry out these technical works.

Energy appliances themselves also have a gender connotation to them and this affect the choice of appliances by the men and women. For example, appliances such as electric saw, water pumps and loudspeakers are usually viewed as male appliances whereas cooking appliances such as cook stoves are viewed as female appliances[26]. Thus, with the unequal decision-making power, the men might be first interested in investing in male appliances and then on female appliances.

Missed opportunity for End Use of Electricity

For a energy project to be successful, the beneficiaries (both male and women) need to be involved in all stages of the project's life cycle. This will help to identify the electricity demand for sizing the renewable energy system and identifying the potential end use activities as well as the communities’ willingness to pay[2]. This all contributes towards the sustainability of the energy sytem and the community can also reap maximum benefits. However, field experiences have shown that RE projects without specific gender mainstreaming activities do not capture the need of the women and this ultimately led to the failure of the project[4].

An electrification program in rural Zanzibar did not include gender mainstreaming activities in its first phase, assuming the planned activities to be gender-neutral. In the second phase, when they explicitly involved women, they found out that the end use of electricity acess did not include women’s needs. Two key institutions i.e. the village mills and the kindergarten that were of highest priority to the women were not electrified. Since men are not involved in flour milling or child-care and thus these institutions were not included in demand assessment in the first phase of the electrificaiton program[30].

Local Knowledge of Natural Resources

Women are knowledgeable of natural resources such as water resources and various flora and fauna in their surroundings[31]. However, this indigenous knowledge of women is often considered non-scientific and not valued[5]. Taking into account the women’s knowledge can help in better planning of the RE system[12][32][33]. E.g. while measuring the water table for micro hydro, rural women can be consulted as they might have a  good understanding of the water flow in different seasons.

Financial Benefit

Involving women within the operation and management of RE systems also has financial benefits. As compared to young men, married women are more likely to stay in the village taking care of the family and not migrate to the cities for better opportunities, resulting in low turn-over of operators[34]. This reduces the cost of training new operators. Women are also aware of their local context/culture and know the potential customers for the RE systems. They have first-hand experience of how access to energy could make their life easier so it is easier for women to interact with other women and share information about the end use of the electricity[2].

Hence, involving women helps to acquire new creditworthy customers at a low cost. This has already been demonstrated by women entrepreneurs selling solar home systems[35].

Further Resources


  1. UNDP. (2007a). Gender mainstreaming: A key driver of development in environment & energy.Retrieved from
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 2.8 UNDP. (2001a). Generating Opportunities: Case studies on energy and women. Retrieved from Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "UNDP, 2001a" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "UNDP, 2001a" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "UNDP, 2001a" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "UNDP, 2001a" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "UNDP, 2001a" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "UNDP, 2001a" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "UNDP, 2001a" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "UNDP, 2001a" defined multiple times with different content
  3. Khamati-Njenga, B., & Clancy, J. (2003a). Concepts and issues in gender and energy. Retrieved from
  4. 4.0 4.1 Skutsch, M. M. (1998). The gender issue in energy project planning Welfare, empowerment or efficiency? Energy Policy, 26(12), 945–955. Retrieved from Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Skutsch, 1998" defined multiple times with different content
  5. 5.0 5.1 Cecealski, E. (2000). The role of women in sustainable economic development. Retrieved from
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  10. Köhlin, G., Sills, E. O., Pattanayak, S. K., & Wilfong, C. (2011). Energy, gender and development what are the linkages? where is the evidence? Retrieved from fckLR
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  17. IIaria, B. (2019). Gender impacts of energy access. Retrieved December 6, 2019, from
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  20. Barron, M., & Torero, M. (2014). Electrification and time allocation: Experimental evidence from NorthernEl Salvador. Retrieved from
  21. Dinkelman, T. (2011). The effects of rural electrification on employment: New evidence from SouthAfrica. The American Economic Review, 101(7), 3078–3108. Retrieved from
  22. Glemarec, Y., Bayat-Renoux, F., & Waissbein, O. (2016). Removing barriers to women entrepreneurs’engagement in decentralized sustainable energy solutions for the poor. AIMS Energy, 4(1), 136–172. Retrieved from
  23. Winther, T., Ulsrud, K., & Saini, A. (2018). Solar powered electricity access: Implications for women’sempowerment in rural Kenya. Energy Research and Social Science, 44, 61–74. Retrieved from
  24. 24.0 24.1 Clancy, J. S., Skutsch, M., & Batchelor, S. (2002). The gender-Energy-Poverty NEXUS: Finding theenergy to address gender concerns in development. Retrieved from
  25. 25.0 25.1 Tucker, M. (1999). Can solar cooking save the forests? Ecological Economics, 31, 77–89. Retrievedfrom
  26. 26.0 26.1 26.2 Winther, T., Ulsrud, K., Matinga, M., Govindan, M., Gill, B., Saini, A., … Murali, R. (2020). In the light ofwhat we cannot see: Exploring the interconnections between gender and electricity access. EnergyResearch and Social Science, 60. Retrieved from
  27. Pueyo, A., & Maestre, M. (2019). Linking energy access, gender and poverty: A review of the literatureon productive uses of energy. Energy Research and Social Science, 53, 170–181. Retrieved from
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  29. Pachauri, S., & Rao, N. D. (2013). Gender impacts and determinants of energy poverty: Are we askingthe right questions? Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, 5(2), 205–215. Retrievedfrom
  30. Winther, T. (2011). Electricity’s effect on gender equality In rural Zanzibar, Tanzania. Retrieved from
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  35. Glemarec, Y., Bayat-Renoux, F., & Waissbein, O. (2016). Removing barriers to women entrepreneurs’engagement in decentralized sustainable energy solutions for the poor. AIMS Energy, 4(1), 136–172. Retrieved from