Women in sub-Saharan Africa spend as many as five hours per day collecting fuel for cooking.
Energy access and gender equality are inextricably linked
Expanding energy access has the potential to transform lives at household and business levels. And yet, distribution of energy access remains uneven, with more than 95% of the 900 million people without access to electricity located in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. Due to cultural conventions and social norms, women shoulder a disproportionate share of the energy poverty burden. Women are tasked with time and labor-intensive activities like firewood gathering, water collection, and manual grain processing, often at the expense of education or other productive activities. Women also have fewer opportunities than men to own mobile phones, gain access to capital or even have a voice in household decision-making on energy matters. As a result, women and girls are being impacted in far greater numbers than men by energy poverty, financial poverty, and adverse climate change impacts.
Clean and affordable energy-efficient appliances have the opportunity to empower women and achieve a union of Sustainable Development Goals 5 (gender equality) and 7 (universal access to energy). Solar-powered, super-efficient appliances promise to alleviate drudgery, improve health and increase available time for education and economic empowerment—ultimately contributing to the shifting of gender roles and relations. If income-generating and time-saving appliances such as refrigerators, solar water pumps, or sewing machines can be accessed equally, women will experience profound improvements on their health, well-being, and social and economic status. Empowering women through equal access to energy and decision-making can also have a significant impact on their community’s overall security and resilience.
Expanding Access to Off-Grid Technologies to Advance Gender Equality
Solar Water Pumps
With a broad range of benefits, solar water pumps are crucial in the push for gender equality. Solar water pumps can reduce drudgery and time spent collecting water, provide opportunities for income generation, increase productivity of farms and households and improve hygiene and sanitation.
In sub-Saharan Africa, one roundtrip to collect water is 33 minutes on average in rural areas.
Before purchasing her first solar water pump, Jacinta Kirigo, a farmer from central Kenya, spent 3-4 hours a day manually irrigating her crops. Now, with steady irrigation from her solar pump, Jacinta is able to sustain more water intensive crops and increase crop yields.
By keeping perishable produce at cool temperatures, refrigerators not only reduce food wastage and money loss, but unlock time for women that they would otherwise spend collecting fuel, traveling to food markets or cooking.
Only 17% of households in sub-Saharan Africa and 30% in India own a refrigerator.
Namugga Proscovia, an entrepreneur living in eastern Uganda, invested in a SolarNow 112-liter refrigerator that has allowed her to provide her community with cool, clean drinking water. Before, the nearest refrigerators were located six kilometers away on the main village road. “At the road, the water was not boiled,” she explains. “We had been falling sick of typhoid fever. I am now able to provide water that is clean. Ever since we started boiling the water, we can confidently trust that it’s safe.” Selling the water has enabled her to generate an additional income of 70,000 shillings ($19) per week, offsetting the costs from the fridge.
As a relatively low-cost appliance, fans can help increase productivity and help those at most risk adapt to climate change. Because the household is a predominantly female sphere in many countries, women are more acutely impacted by these benefits.
Over 260 million fans were sold worldwide in 2016.
Parvin Akther, a stay-at-home mother in Bangladesh, purchased an off-grid fan made more affordable through Global LEAP Awards financing. During monsoon season, when the temperature averages 31°C (87.8°F), Pravin and her family rely on their off-grid fan for cooling and comfort.
While our research indicates that the typical solar TV customer is male, as an in-home appliance, solar TVs directly influence women’s empowerment and are associated with positive changes in school enrolment, literacy, family planning, financial decisions and health.
Solar TVs can help reduce gender-based violence by exposing women and girls to news and global views that are intolerant of gender-based violence.
Teresa Lekuraki, a mother of four in western Kenya, purchased a home solar package from Mobisol that included a 32” flat screen TV financed through the Global LEAP Awards. Safety concerns for her children may not have motivated her purchase, but an increased sense of safety is one of the benefits. Her family lives on a floodplain traversed by a river that swells several times a year. The TV helps to keep her children safely inside and entertained during periods of flooding. “Plus, they learn things like spelling and math from educational programming, and the whole family sits down to watch the news together every night.”
Electric Pressure Cookers
Every day, millions of women breath in harmful smoke while cooking and spend hours walking far distances to secure cooking fuel. As an appliance more closely associated with prescribed gender norms, EPCs directly target women’s well-being. In addition to shortening the duration of cooking and unlocking time for other productive activities, EPCs can eliminate risk of illness from household air pollution.
40% of the world’s population uses inefficient and polluting fuels such as wood, charcoal, coal and kerosene for cooking.
Explore the following resources to learn more
Women at the Forefront of Solar
From refrigerators to fans, appliances are transforming women’s roles and capacities within their homes and communities. Explore this impact story to learn how off-grid appliances are facilitating and expanding gender-positive productive uses of energy.
Explore Publications Related to Women & Gender
Renewable Energy Systems
2021 Appliance Data Trends
The 2021 Appliance Data Trends report builds on the 2018 Appliance Data Trends report and presents updated product performance, energy efficiency, and pricing trends for off-grid appropriate televisions, fans, refrigerators, solar water pumps and early market insights for electric pressure cookers.
Off-Grid Appliance Market Survey 2020
The 2020 Off-Grid Appliance Market Survey shares key insights on the perceived demand for, and impact of, off-grid appropriate appliances using data collected from 133 industry, policy, and development stakeholders. The survey results reflect the dynamic needs of off-grid consumers and aim to characterize the positive socioeconomic impact of a range of household appliances, productive use equipment, and healthcare technologies.
Renewable Energy Systems
The Role of Appliances in Achieving Gender Equality and Energy Access for All
Energy-efficient off-grid appliances are essential to ensuring the advantages of electricity translate into measurable social and economic benefits for the millions of households without access to modern energy. Evidence from the Efficiency for Access Coalition and ENERGIA finds the benefits of modern energy are not reaching those who need it most.