WASHINGTON DC, April 08 (IPS) – As the world seeks to address issues of gender equity, development and climate change, the importance of increasing women’s participation in the energy sector grows in attention. To date, this topic has generally been structured around the under-representation of women in the energy workforce.
But this ignores an important reality: millions of women are already participating as energy producers – especially bioenergy for poor households. To support sustainable development and gender goals, more attention needs to be paid to these women energy producers who have remained largely invisible in much of the energy discourse.
Women represent only 22% of jobs in the oil and gas industry and only 32% in the renewable energy sector. Regarding managerial and other decision-making positions, the proportion of women is even lower; for example, their representation in the boardrooms of energy companies are less than 5%.
In response, several programs were launched for increase the participation of women in the energy sector. These programs are successful raise awareness on the need for more women in the sector, create networks to support practicing womenand give visibility to women is already working in the energy sector – but with a focus on the formal and professionalized segments that make up the energy industry.
But this focus on tackling under-representation in formal segments of the sector – a very significant effort – can generate the mistaken idea that women are in fact not active in global energy production. Many assume that their role is largely limited to consuming energy (for example, at home, at work, or for leisure), not providing it. And this is a little-known reality: millions of women around the world are producers of biomass, a form of bioenergy.
About 2.5 billion people in the world for cooking rely on the traditional use of solid biomass, including fuelwood, charcoal and manure. This figure includes 680 million people in India and 800 million across sub-Saharan Africa.
Biomass is also used by the poor for other purposes, such as heating homes in colder regions. In many low-income countries, biomass can constitute more 90% of the energy consumed by poor households. It is supplied through small business enterprises, but much of it is also generated by households for their own use.
In developing countries, women play a central role in the production of this bioenergy, including collecting wood and making charcoal. In fact, this is a segment of the energy sector where women are often overrepresented.
As the World Bank reported last year, “in most parts of sub-Saharan Arica and parts of China, women are the main collectors of fuelwood», Which is also the case in the regions of South Asia. It is time consuming and physically demanding work that can involve “pick up and transport loads of wood weighing up to 25 to 50 kilograms“And can”take up to 20 hours or more per week. Unfortunately, we lack concrete data on the number of women engaged in this energy production.
Biomass has already attracted the attention of development circles due to problems associated with its use in traditional cookers, such as negative effects on health, especially women who cook and the charges associated with collecting firewood.
To solve this problem, the United Nations has adopted as one of its Sustainable development goals replacing the traditional use of biomass by clean cooking technologies. This targeting of biomass and its harmful effects does not, however, negate the role played by its women producers in the energy sector (just as the climatic and environmental concerns around coal do not erase the role of miners).
Several actions can help make these producers more visible in the energy discourse.
First, recognizing the role they play in energy supply can help change the notion and perception of dependency: women are actively involved in the production, and not just the use, of household energy.
Failure to understand women’s contribution to global energy production will continue to perpetuate the myth of women as predominantly (dependent) energy users, which may hamper efforts to ensure their full participation in energy. decision-making and leadership roles at all levels of society.
Second, there is little data regarding these women producers – a situation that reflects the lack of attention they receive and also contributes to their lack of visibility.
How many women work in biomass production (usually in the form of unpaid labor)? How many women will be affected by changes in biomass production systems? What will they do in a changed world? This type of information can help meet their needs and plan their engagement in the energy transition. We need more data.
Third, it is important to properly recognize and value this work in household bioenergy production, and to report it in the energy workforce statistics. When a company produces electricity for its own use, it is called a “self-generator”.
When a woman produces biomass for her household use, she is too often unnamed. Recognition of this work by women would also contribute to the effort to “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”. fifth sustainable development goal.
Fourth, when developing programs and initiatives to shift households from traditional biomass use to clean cooking technologies, it is important not only to consider the effect on women by as consumers, but also to address the impact on women as energy producers to ensure that their needs are met.
Moreover, because these efforts to change the way households use biomass will also be affect greenhouse gas emissions, the subject has entered the climate discourse. As world leaders discuss how to limit climate change next summit convened by US President Biden or thereafter to the international negotiations of the COP, it is important to ensure that the situation of these women producers – their voices, concerns and aspirations – is duly taken into account when planning the clean energy transition (as are the concerns of coal miners and others. also taken into account).
Recognizing the central role that millions of women play in the production of global bioenergy can lead to greater empowerment of women across the sector.
As efforts to stimulate women’s participation in energy mature, it will be important to better recognize and analyze the contributions of these women producers, and to design policies that will help improve their standard of living, including in the framework of the clean energy transition.
Philippe benoit is Managing Director, Energy and Sustainable Development at Global Infrastructure Consulting Services 2050 and Deputy Principal Investigator at Columbia University Center for Global Energy Policy where he leads the energy for development research initiative.
Jully Meriño Carela is the director of the Women in Energy program at Columbia University Center for Global Energy Policy.
The opinions expressed are those of the authors in their personal capacity.
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