Wednesday, July 6, 2011

GENDER AND RENEWABLE ENERGIES: How women help energy and energy helps women.

My second published ARTICLE

Gender and Renewable Energies: How women help energy and energy helps women.

“The energy-poverty nexus has distinct gender characteristics. Of the approximately 1.3 billion people living in poverty, it is estimated that 70% are women, many of whom live in female-headed households in rural areas." Clancy, Skutsch and Batchelor

What does gender have to do with energy? Let’s start with the F word. Feminism. Some people do not consider themselves feminists because they misunderstand the meaning of the term or dislike negative connotations associated with the word when all it really refers to is equality. Does the word ecofeminism sound better to you somehow? That’s because the prefix “eco” here stands for ecology. Ecofeminism is a movement embracing the intersection of environmentalism and feminism. Some think of it as how current practices in the world dominate land and women in many of the same ways.

Now let’s look at another “eco”—economy, that is. Many of us know that the world economy is primarily dependent on fossil fuels and that such a form of energy is dangerous to, and expensive for, the planet and its people. We also know a new world of technology, based on clean and renewable energy, is waiting to be developed. But why renewable energy? With the world population hitting 7 billion this year and signs of global warming abound, renewable energy is crucial as it is environmentally friendly, more simple, and less expensive. But energy is often something we do not think about.

Because we do not really need energy, we tend to take it for granted. It is a rather intangible part of modern living, but we have come to need the services it provides. It helps us eat through cooking. The water that is provided to us starts with pumping. Energy is what lights and heats or cools our homes and offices. It contributes to the education, entertainment, healthcare, and commerce industries.

But why is it so important to focus on women and gender issues in regard to energy? For one, particularly in rural locations, women are often in charge of sustaining families through the use of energy. Women are not just a part of energy use-- they use energy far more than we think about. So their work often goes unrecognized. It is rather invisible and therefore often unpaid. (Men typically use energy for activities that society recognizes as income generating.) Evolving energy then leads to evolving women, something the world and everyone in it can benefit from. We have already seen how, as technology progresses, new energies help women work fewer hours (since they often work longer hours than men), allowing more time for education and improvement of family conditions.

Now, let’s take a closer look at energy and how it meets women’s needs. For the purposes of Klimapolitik’s website format, here I cite verbatim information from a chart on energy meeting women’s needs from a paper called The Gender – Energy – Poverty Nexus by Clancy, Skutsch and Batchelor (2003). Clancy et al state that there are three energy forms: electricity, improved biomass (supply and conversion technology), and mechanical energy. Women’s needs and issues are described as practical needs, productive needs, and strategic issues.

Under electricity, the practical needs are pumping of water supplies, reducing the need to haul and carry mills for grinding, and lighting to improve working conditions at home. The productive needs are to increase possibility of activities during evening hours, to provide refrigeration for food production and sale, and power for specialized enterprises such as hairdressing and Internet cafes. The strategic issues here are to make streets safer, allowing participation in other activities (e.g., evening classes and women’s group meetings), and opening horizons through radio, TV, and Internet.

With improved biomass, the practical needs are improved health through better stoves and less time and effort in gathering and carrying firewood. The productive needs are more time for productive activities and lower cost for processing heat for income-generating activities. The strategic issues are mainly that of control of natural forests in community forestry management frameworks.

Regarding mechanical energy, the practical needs are milling and grinding and the transport and porter of water and crops. The productive needs refer to increases in the variety of enterprises. The strategic issues mainly point to transport, allowing access to commercial and social/political opportunities.

By looking at populations that are less developed with modern technologies, we can more easily see all the steps involved in energy services. We can also see how much work goes into services that we use every day and hardly think about the human effort put into them. How then do we further enable development to ensure the cheaper, simpler, and environmentally-sound energies? First, we increase our awareness of gender issues involved in energy. Second, we make sure women are involved in the decision-making processes on changes in energy use and development. Third, we facilitate women’s equal access to resources. Lastly, we promote harmonization of family and work responsibilities between women and men. We can work together to appreciate and share the divisions of labor with sustainability of people and the planet in mind.


* Bronwyn Kay Galloway has an M.A. in Social Psychology from San Francisco State University and a J.D. in Public Interest Law from John F. Kennedy University. With the United Nations Association-San Francisco Chapter, she is a board member, the Executive Committee Secretary, and a Women’s Committee Co-Chair. In addition, Bronwyn has worked in law firms for 13 years, mostly as a litigation secretary, and is now working contract jobs mostly as a paralegal.

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