On International Women's Day 2017, Hivos celebrates the achievements of our programmes and partners in driving change for women and helping accelerate gender parity across the world. Together we are creating a gender inclusive green society, where women and men have equal access to – and control over - renewable energy and sufficient, nutritious and affordable food.
The energy divide
Women and men are affected differently by energy access or the lack thereof. For example, women are more exposed to health risks associated with using firewood or charcoal for cooking because of indoor air pollution. They also face specific barriers in accessing energy sources. Men often have a stronger decision-making role over energy products and services in the household, and even where infrastructure is available, women are denied finance and appliances.
At the same time, the potential benefits of energy access for women are huge. Energy policies and programmes that explicitly address gender issues and involve women in decision-making, planning and implementation have better outcomes and improve livelihoods of entire communities. As Sheila Oparaocha, programme manager at Hivos’ partner ENERGIA, points out (watch video here): “Energy access is critical for women’s empowerment, and women are critical for scaling up energy access”.
ENERGIA specifically focuses on increasing opportunities for women to allow them greater and more productive participation in politics, society and the economy. The organisation has distributed clean energy technologies through women-run enterprises. Women are trained to manage their businesses, and go on to earn new income with which they can support themselves and improve the well-being of their families. Their economic empowerment also has a positive knock-on effect on their increased bargaining power within the household and improves their self‑esteem. As ENERGIA trainee Bimala Rai from Nepal puts it, “I was selected in the training which provided me a new skill and also a key to boost my confidence.”
Currently more than 3000 women have started running micro and small enterprises through ENERGIA’s programmes. You can read about some of their inspiring empowerment journeys here.
Backbone of the world’s food system
As well as in energy, women play a crucial role in the world’s food system, as food entrepreneurs, stewards of the land, business owners, farmers and caretakers of the nutrition intake of their family. However, here, too, they have less control over household spending and limited access to resources, knowledge, networks and markets.
Hivos supports different partners to promote gender-sensitive programming that addresses access to opportunities for women, whether it is through education, investing in business opportunities or tools for cooking, like using biogas or solar-powered stoves.
The Nununa Women’s Federation in Kenya, a producer of Shea butter products that trains women in business skills and social enterprises, has constructed bio-digesters that helped women reduce time spent fetching wood (up to five hours!) and increase their crop revenue with bio-slurry (organic fertiliser) from the digester.
Working with the National Biogas Programme of Ethiopia (NBPE) and partners of the SNV, we have supported the development of a unique cookstove: a biogas-fuelled baking stove designed to cook Injera, a staple food in Ethiopia that normally accounts for over 50 per cent of the household energy consumption. Women, responsible for preparing Injera, also spend much time and energy looking for firewood. Now, the Injera stove is helping boost the uptake of bio-digesters in Ethiopia and improving the well-being of women - who are its front users.
In conclusion, women are the backbone of the world’s food and energy system and play a vital role in building green societies. That is why we apply a gender lens and support women in all our energy and food programmes.