Energy and gender: a crucial connection


Greater female empowerment can have a massive impact in terms of food security, childhood nutrition, improved educational outcomes and more sustainable food systems. Energy has a key part to play in bringing about this change.

Globally women comprise over 37 percent of the world’s rural agricultural workforce, a ratio that rises to 48 percent for low-income countries. They are close to half of the world’s 600 million small-scale livestock managers and about half of the labour force in small-scale fisheries, according to FAO’s Policy on Gender Equality, 2020-2030.

Yet women are more likely to suffer from food insecurity than men, in every region of the world. That was the stark finding of research from FAO and partners into the gender gap relating to hunger. But it is not just as consumers that women fare better than their male counterparts. Throughout the food value chain - whether working in production or sharing in the rewards - women come in second place. FAO is mainstreaming gender across its programmes and initiatives. The energy sector is an important part of this transformative process.

Women are particularly affected by energy poverty

According to the 2018 FAO report, “Costs and Benefits of Clean Energy Technologies in the Milk, Vegetable and Rice Value Chains”, energy poverty – the lack of access to modern energy services – in poor rural areas affects women in particular. This is in part due to traditional gender roles and responsibilities, as well as to women’s limited asset base. Women work longer hours per day and spend a higher proportion of their time on unpaid, labour-intensive and repetitive tasks than men. At home and on farms, women provide human energy to carry out tasks such as the collection of water, fuel wood and fodder.

Many of these tasks could be alleviated by more application of sustainable energy within the value chain. But those changes are less likely to occur when women are shut out of the decision-making process. To this end, FAO is working to bring about change at a societal and structural level to amplify women’s voices.

Women’s roles and responsibilities mean that they know better than most what the energy needs of their home, family and farm and how they should perform. Allowing their needs to be addressed will increase access, adoption and the sustainability of rural energy services within value chains and bring about meaningful change for rural women and men.

When women increase the income they earn and control – at home, in institutions and the community – they often have greater influence in decision-making and shaping collective choices. Rural women are also known to invest a greater proportion of their income in the well-being of their families than men.

Closing the gender gap in crisis situation

FAO also looks at how women are disproportionately affected in conflict and emergency settings. In times of crisis, people often face reduced access to fuel and energy for cooking, heating and lighting. This increases the risk of malnutrition, and makes communities more vulnerable to natural hazards and the impacts of climate change and environmental degradation.

One example of a FAO intervention which has benefited women - and therefore the whole family - has been through the introduction of fuel-efficient cooking stoves in crisis situations. In conflicts in South Sudan and Darfur, FAO has distributed these stoves and educated women in their use. Knock-on results include women being freed from long hours spent gathering fuel wood, better nutrition, and reduced indoor smoke, with the health risks that brings.

FAO has also worked in protracted crisis to enhance women’s lives through green jobs creation, In the Zaatari refugee camp in Syria, 51 percent of women refugees participated to the creation and running of a solid waste segregation unit inside the Zaatari Camp, where they were paid and offered “on-the-job training” modality by FAO Jordan. The project established an innovative model of livelihood improvement through a waste-energy-environment platform. It successfully enhanced the humanitarian-development nexus in the Zaatari refugee camp through the creation of green jobs opportunities, which, in turn, were achieved through the generation of renewable energy and production of compost from waste in a refugee camp environment.

Whether it is in crisis or in times of stability, closing the gender gap in agriculture and food value chains is crucial to FAO’s mandate. In energy as in other fields, the Organisation is committed to tackling the root causes of existing inequalities and promoting inclusive agricultural and rural development.