The Role of Gender in the Energy and Agriculture Nexus

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Improved access to energy services has a potential to enhance women’s social and economic situation by freeing up time for economic activities and participation in political and social life and improving access to public services, especially to healthcare and education. Women and men benefit from energy services differently, due to the differences in access to and control over resources and the traditional gender roles.[1][2][3][4][5][6][7] The Integration of Gender Issues is vital for energy projects in developing and emerging countries.[8]

Since access to energy doesn’t necessarily translate into outcomes without availability of appliances or access to energy services, individual as well as at the community level, the article approaches the issue of access to energy from the energy poverty standpoint.[3] Such essential energy services for women as refrigeration, food processing related services, solar water pumping and solar irrigation can significantly reduce drudgery and time involved in household and agricultural activities.[3] The daylight hours and effort freed from chores can be and are often invested into income generation.[9] Generation of own resources by women improve their decision-making power and access to other productive resources.[6][7]

IDE Nepal SPIS.jpg

Woman in front of a solar panel in Nepal (©iDE)

Gender and Agriculture

Agriculture is an energy intensive sector. It plays an important role in economic developmentand employs over 40 percent of the labour force in many countries in Asia and the Pacific as well as over 60 percent of workforce in most of sub-Saharan Africa.[10] [11] In some countries in Asia, 60 percent of economically active women participate in agriculture and over 70 per cent in some sub-Saharan African countries.[12]  Rural-urban migration of men further increases the role of women in agriculture as well as the number of female-headed households.[13] The challenge, however, is that gender inequalities in access to energy services, land, credits and agricultural inputs such as seeds and fertilizer remain widespread.[14] These inequalities increase vulnerability of women in rural areas to the effects of climate change and reduce agricultural productivity and efficiency.[15][13]

Access to electricity is a necessary but not sufficient condition for tackling gender inequalities.[16][5] It is, however, important what services access to electricity can support and what benefits of access to such services this can generate. New water management technologies such as solar water pumps can mitigate the risks associated with limited access to electricity in rural areas and the high cost of pumping groundwater, reduce GHG emissions and translate the benefits of access to energy into socio-economic outcomes, that otherwise cannot be achieved.[3] Unfortunately, due to factors related to limited access to credit or decision making, women fare worse in the adoption of agricultural innovations. The International Center for Research on Women suggests that enhancing women’s access to vital agricultural inputs that require intensive use of energy, such as irrigation technology can substantially boost their agricultural productivity and incomes. In a broader sense, improved access to technology can further boost the impact of availability of the high quality electricity supply on equality and poverty reduction, especially if accompanied by provision of (1) access to finance for electrical appliances, (2) markets, (3) skills for entrepreneurs, and (4) access to other infrastructure or services.[5]

See also: the World Bank Sourcebook "Gender in Agriculture" (2008) and Revealing the Gap Between Men and Women Farmers (National Geographic, 2014).

Furthermore, the majority of informal sector enterprises in the Global South are owned and operated by women. Women are twice as likely as men to work in the informal sector but face constraints to grow their business to a sufficient scale. At the same time, being formally registered and using electricity correlate positively and significantly with higher profits. Female enterprises tend to be concentrated in a relatively narrow range of activities, operate at smaller scale and use less machinery. A certain gendered occupational segregation often takes place in the countries of the Global South. Gender norms determine the types of sectors in which men and women operate and the tasks they undertake due to socially constructed as well as biological differences between men and women. To illustrate, women are heavily involved in subsistence agriculture, while men dominate fishing and cultivation of cash crops – the key sources of agricultural income.[5] This means that in agriculture, women often earn income only when they work as wage labourers or when they are self-employed.[17] Male-dominated activities are also more energy-intensive, more value adding and require more advanced equipment.[5] The type of fuel and amount consumed is in great part determined by the sector of operation.[5] Women tend to diversify their energy sources choice less than men due to a variety of factors.[18] Many female-led businesses rely on biomass and have disproportionately low rates of return compared to the activities undertaken by men. In food processing enterprises it has been estimated that energy costs are 20-25% of the total inputs, which suggests that technological interventions could increase the scale and profitability of these businesses.[19][7]

See also: Productive Use of Energy for Rural Development and Energy in Agricultural Processing

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Gender Issues in the Context of Energy Poverty and Rural Development

Diversification of energy sources is necessary to meet the growing demand in energy and to provide the following energy services: mechanical power for agriculture, energy for food processing, water pumping and irrigation, cooking and heating, lighting, refrigeration, communications, and public services. Limited access to efficient and affordable energy sources or the lack thereof restrain economic development opportunities for rural communities.[20] Access to Modern Energy is however problematic in most countries in the Global South. According to the estimates of the International Energy Agency (IEA), 2.6 billion people around the world currently rely on traditional uses of energy to cover their basic energy needs. This figure is expected to rise to 2.7 billion by 2030.[21] Over 80 % of these people live in the rural areas of Africa and Asia.

See also: Energy Poverty

Men and women in the Global South experience the lack of access to energy differently. Women tend to diversify their energy sources choice less than men.[18] Households headed by women face systemic inequalities while accessing resources, credit but also mobility, which constrains women’s energy access as well.[22] Poor women in rural areas generally have less time to invest in income generation due to their traditional household roles, but, at the same time, almost as many women as men identify themselves as the main breadwinners in the household and serve as the backbone of the rural economy.[7]

Women often spend long hours collecting firewood and even longer time due to desertification. Water collection is another chore traditionally performed by women. The light hours spent on firewood and water collection, cooking and food processing could be spent to engage in other productive or income-generating activities or invested in education.[9]  Carrying heavy loads during firewood and water collection and indoor air pollution caused by cooking with traditional biomass have a negative effect on women’s health. In addition, the lack of public lighting and the longer distances they have to walk to find firewood in the areas affected by desertification make firewood collection insecure for women. However, providing access to sustainable, reliable and affordable energy services, as an alternative at the community level, has a significant potential to reduce poverty in rural communities.[22][23][9] Impact of access to energy services on equality and poverty reduction could be strengthened by improved access to subsidy, credit, microfinance or other innovative financial solutions.[24]

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Gender and Energy Projects

Although "gender inequality persists at every level of the energy sector, gender sensitive energy projects and research are still the exception rather than the rule” [19].

Women in rural areas face particular obstacles in accessing renewable energy technologies due to their relatively high poverty levels, lower access to credit (due to low access to land and other resources that could serve as collateral), lower literacy rates, less access to information and mobility.[25] As the analysis of the Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy (WISIONS) demonstrated, gender factor can influence the sustainability of a project, the technological choice, the use patterns and the decision-making. The study findings show that about 47% of project designs addressed gender issues less than fairly, the choice of technology had no significant influence on how far gender-related concerns were considered as part of the project concepts. Furthermore, while projects where implemented in over 40 countries in Latin America, Asia, Africa and the Middle-East, no significant differences in incorporating gender into the project design were observed. Projects in Latin America had, however, a slightly more gender-sensitive design. Yet, the study demonstrated that integrating gender issues, i.e. women’s needs as a key variable in energy projects makes it more likely that energy will have a substantial impact on household and community poverty reduction and on gender equality. Furthermore, involving women in the policy (intervention) and technology design is crucial to strengthen their impact. To summarize, where energy interventions engage women in the project design and address their broader participation, the potential for benefits is much higher for all.[26][2]

See: The Role of Gender Concerns in the Planning of Small Scale Energy Projects (WISIONS)

The EU Energy Initiative Partnership Dialogue Facility (EUEI PDF) in cooperation with ENERGIA, the International Network on Gender and Sustainable Energy, has elaborated the Gender Briefing Notes - Supporting active inclusion of women in energy and development projects. The brochure highlights relevant gender dimensions in four thematic pillars: Energy Access, Renewable Energy, Biomass Energy and Energy Efficiency. The section on gender issues in renewable energy technologies and programmes is particularly interesing regarding agricultural productive use of energy.

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Gender and the Agriculture and Energy Nexus

In their article "Energy and Agricultural Technologies for Women’s Economic Advancement” (2012), the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) states that engaging women in the development and distribution of a (renewable energy based) agricultural technology, which in turn enables their access and use of the technology, generates a positive chain reaction with extensive outcomes. This process unlocks two key pathways to economic progress for women by; 1) enhancing women’s productivity in existing economic activities, and 2) by creating new economic opportunities for women. For example, technology that irrigates arable land (e.g. Solar Powered Irrigation Systems) can improve crop yield and reduce the amount of time women must spend collecting water. To this end, female-headed households in Ethiopia increased their net incomes on average by US$268, or about 18 % by using treadle irrigation pumps.[27]

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Case studies

Solar irrigation can have a positive impact on gender equality. Women in Africa and Asia make up 50% of the agricultural labor force, yet they have less access to credit and formal banking, which can be improved by credit history borne from payments for pay-as-you-go solar water pumps. Savings in time and labor were also seen in irrigation projects by the Solar Electric Light Fund, which supported women’s farming groups in rural Benin. It is the women’s traditional role to collect water, often from very long distances.

Solar Sister, a network of energy solutions distributors, emphasized the role of female entrepreneurs at the forefront of the clean energy revolution. The company grew from 2 to 1,250 entrepreneurs in just five years.

ICIMOD supported a subsidy program for the SPIS in Nepal. To promote the uptake of the SPIS in Nepal's Terai, ICIMOD provided a subsidy to farmers in the Terai region of Nepal. The region has a huge gender gap between men and women. To close the gender gap and to promote the uptake of SPIS by female farmers, the program provided additional 10% subsidy if the land was registered in the women's name.

The SPIS systems are usually expensive for smallholder farmers, especially women. A group of 35-40 women formed a cooperative of solar market gardens within the framework of the project. As a cooperative, they were able to afford the SPIS system as well as sustainably maintain it. The SPIS system helped women to reduce the drudgery and to increase agriculture production.

Gender Guidance Resources

Powering Agriculture: An Energy Grand Challenge for Development (PAEGC) has published a series of 6 topical guides focused on integrating gender into the development and deployment of clean energy solutions (CES) for the agricultural sector. The practical guides enable innovators and others working in the clean energy-agriculture nexus and related fields to better reach and serve women - a large, important, and often overlooked market segment.

The guides cover the following areas and you can access individual guides by clicking on the topics:

Further Information

 For more information see:


  1. ENERGIA. (2017a). Gender in SDG 7: bridging the knowledge gap. The ENERGIA Gender and Energy Research Programme. Retrieved from
  2. 2.0 2.1 ENERGIA. (2017b). What we know so far and policy considerations. The ENERGIA Gender and Energy Research Programme. Policy Brief #1. Retrieved from Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "ENERGIA. (2017b). What we know so far and policy considerations. The ENERGIA Gender and Energy Research Programme. Policy Brief #1. Retrieved from" defined multiple times with different content
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 ENERGIA. (2020a). The role of appliances in achieving gender equality and energy access for all. The ENERGIA Gender and Energy Research Programme. Policy Brief #4. Retrieved from
  4. ENERGIA. (2020b). Why energy access and gender equality are inextricably linked? The ENERGIA Gender and Energy Research Programme. Policy Brief #2. Retrieved from
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 IDS and GIZ. (2019). Unlocking the Benefits of Productive Uses of Energy for Women in Ghana, Tanzania and Myanmar. Research report RA6, ENERGIA. Retrieved from
  6. 6.0 6.1 University of Oslo, TERI, Seacrester Consulting and Dunamai Energy (2019). Women’s empowerment and electricity access: How do grid and off-grid systems enhance or restrict gender equality? Research report RA1, ENERGIA. Retrieved from
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 University of Twente, University of Cape Town, MARGE and ENDA Energie (2019). Productive Uses of Energy and Gender in the Street Food Sector in Rwanda, Senegal and South Africa. Research report RA2, ENERGIA. Retrieved from
  8. Lambrou, Y., Piana, G. (2006). Energy and Gender Issues in Rural Sustainable Development. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Modi, V., McDade, S., Lallement, D., J. Saghir, J. (2005). Energy and the Millennium Development Goals. Energy Sector Management Assistance Programme, United Nations Development Programme. Retrieved from
  10. Clancy, J. S., Skutsch, M., & Batchelor, S. (2002). The Gender-Energy-Poverty Nexus: Finding the energy to address gender concerns in development
  11. International Labour Organization, ILOSTAT. (2020a). Employment in agriculture (% of total employment). Retrieved from
  12. International Labour Organization, ILOSTAT. (2020b). Employment in agriculture, female (% of female employment). Retrieved from
  13. 13.0 13.1 FAO, 2003. Gender and Sustainable Development in Drylands: an Analysis of Field Experiences. Retrieved April, 20, 2020 from
  14. World Bank, FAO and IFAD. (2009). Gender in agriculture sourcebook. The World Bank: Washington, D.C
  15. Islam, N. & Winkel, J. (2017). Climate Change and Social Inequality. DESA Working Paper No. 152. Retrieved from
  16. Pueyo A, Hanna R. (2015). What level of electricity access is required to enable and sustain poverty reduction? Annex 1 – Literature review. Institute of Development Studies and Practical Action Consulting. Retrieved from
  17. Dev, N. et al. (2018). Energy Use and Women’s Work in Agriculture Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emission. Economic and Political Weekly, 54, 17. Retrieved from
  18. 18.0 18.1 Ruggles, M., Lenci, L., Muller, T. (2020). The ENERGIA Gender and Energy Research Programme: A short overview of the results. Newsletter of the ENERGIA International Network on Gender and Sustainable Energy. The ENERGIA Gender and Energy Research Programme. Retrieved from Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Ruggles, M., Lenci, L., Muller, T. (2020). The ENERGIA Gender and Energy Research Programme: A short overview of the results. Newsletter of the ENERGIA International Network on Gender and Sustainable Energy. The ENERGIA Gender and Energy Research Programme. Retrieved from" defined multiple times with different content
  19. 19.0 19.1 Cecelski, Elizabeth. 2004. Conceptual Review. Re-thinking Gender and Energy: Old
  20. Clancy, J. S., Skutsch, M., & Batchelor, S. (2002). The Gender-Energy-Poverty Nexus: Finding the energy to address gender concerns in development.
  21. IEA, 2011
  22. 22.0 22.1 ENERGIA. (2020b). Why energy access and gender equality are inextricably linked? The ENERGIA Gender and Energy Research Programme. Policy Brief #4. Retrieved from
  23. Day, R., Walker, G., Simcock, N. (2016). Conceptualising energy use and energy poverty using a capabilities framework. Energy Policy, 93, 255-264. doi: 0.1016/j.enpol.2016.03.019.
  24. Brass, J.N., Carley, S., MacLean, L.M., Baldwin, E. (2012). Power for Development: A Review of Distributed Generation Projects in the Developing World. DOI: 10.1146/annurev-environ-051112-111930.
  25. Gender Briefing Notes: Supporting active inclusion of women in energy and development projects.
  26. ENERGIA/DFID, 2006
  27. Peterman, A., Quisumbing, A., Behrman, J. and Nkonya, E. (2010). Understanding gender differences in agricultural productivity in Uganda and Nigeria. IFPRI Discussion Paper 01003. Retrieved from