Powering Empowerment

Experts from over 10 time zones and 35 countries came together May 12-13th for our first ever virtual workshop – Energy Access through a Gender Lens! This event, co-sponsored with the Sustainable Energy Transitions Initiative and Women in Environmental Economics for Development, melded practitioners’ on-the-ground experiences with frameworks for measurement from researchers, in an effort to foster partnerships and collaborations for improving knowledge of the gender and energy nexus.

A white paper prepared for the event – A virtuous cycle? Reviewing the evidence on women’s empowerment and energy access, frameworks, metrics and methods – framed the workshop by outlining what we know about the two-way relationship between SDG 7 (Energy Access) and SDG 5 (Gender Equality).

In the coming days and weeks, we will be sharing additional content from the event – including keynote addresses, panel discussions, and research flash talks – as well as incorporating all that we’ve learned into a revised white paper.

Event in review

The event brought together nearly 200 people – from small groups to larger webinar-style formats – over nine hours, spanning two days. We were pleasantly surprised to see how the workshop format transferred online, and the diverse perspectives—and reduced carbon emissions! —that going virtual was able to add.

The workshop was grounded in the aforementioned white paper, which, among other things, highlighted that considerable research focus has been given to traditional cooking and women’s health, but less attention had been paid to the non-health benefits of improved cooking technologies, the role of off-grid solutions and electrical appliances, productive uses of energy, or how many energy services actually advance women’s empowerment in real world settings.

Monica Maduekwe, a renewable energy and efficiency official with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), explained how developing energy projects needs to take into account a range of ways in which women get left behind, from land ownership to participation in the energy sector. Two research keynotes highlighted relevant recent efforts: Amber Peterman (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) pulled lessons from her work on social protection and agriculture to show the power of moving from broader gender concepts to policy action. Anita Shankar (Johns Hopkins University) emphasized the role of personal empowerment in influencing women’s experience as creators of energy.

Monica Maduekwe Presentation Amber Peterman Presentation Anita Shankar Presentation

Practitioner perspectives from ENERGIA, Ashden, Greenway Appliances, 60 decibels, Energy4Impact, SEforALL, IDRC, Solar Sister, the Clean Cooking Alliance, CLASP, Let There Be Light International, Local Development Research Institute, Barefoot College and NexLeaf Analytics, and research “flash talks” that illustrated new efforts to shed light on a range of gender-energy issues.

All agreed that measuring women’s empowerment is a uniquely difficult challenge, and that no single appliance or empowerment training will get us to SDG 7, SDG 5, or SDG 13 (Climate Action). This points to the need for solutions that:

  • Build on the best practice from other fields. Although women’s empowerment hasn’t been a sufficient focus in the energy sector, other development fields, such as agriculture, have put in substantial work to develop empowerment indices (such as the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index) that can be adapted to other contexts.
  • Bundle energy services and interventions from other spheres. A single lightbulb may not remove a woman’s domestic burdens, but practitioners pointed out the value of combining energy interventions with non-energy programing, whether it’s empowerment training, access to finance, or other social protection initiatives. Meanwhile, bundling energy interventions – such as microgrids and electric cookstoves – offers a way to break through the ‘no one solution’ challenge, offering end users the range of services that they desire. Linking across development goals increases the potential to leverage resources from numerous domains.
  • Strike a (measurement) balance. All practitioners cited resource constraints that inhibit the collection of key data, which could in principle improve sales and targeting of improved cookstoves, pico solar, or other energy technologies. Researchers and practitioners acknowledged that there was a trade-off between measuring impacts at scale and measuring them in a context-specific way. Despite the challenges in that trade-off, participants saw opportunities for innovative data-collection approaches, as well as for study the role of context, rather than despairing in complexity.

Watch this space for more!

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