The excessive reliance on fossil fuels, such as firewood, charcoal, and kerosene, for cooking purposes, exposes women to harmful toxic fumes. These women breathe in these dangerous fumes almost daily, leading to health issues like coughing, lung cancer, and pneumonia over time, and ultimately, death. As reported by a 2021 World Economic Forum article, the World Health Organization estimates that around 3.8 million people die annually due to household air pollution resulting from cooking with fossil fuels.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, for instance, nearly 490,000 individuals die each year because of inadequate access to clean cooking facilities, with most victims being women and children.
Regrettably, the use of these fuels persists, and as fossil fuels continue to be consumed, they contribute to the Earth’s rising temperatures and, as a consequence, climate change.
Climate change is a serious problem, but it’s not the only problem. Gender inequality is also an issue, and it can exacerbate the effects of climate change.
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, higher temperatures can adversely affect the yield rate of farm crops if they don’t have enough water and nutrients to counteract the effects of the high temperature. Unfortunately, this adversely affected crop yield is currently the case, and it’s telling on farmers, who, because of gender inequality in occupational distribution, are mostly women.
The link between gender inequality and climate change is complicated: climate change disproportionately affects women and girls, exacerbates gender disparities, and limits their access to opportunities and resources. Switching to renewable energy and reducing reliance on fossil fuels can break this link by improving access to energy, creating new opportunities for women in the workforce, and mitigating the impacts of climate change.
Disproportionate Impacts of Climate Change on Women and Girls
Women are often responsible for managing natural resources and agriculture. For example, women in developing countries are said to produce between 60 and 80% of the food consumed in those countries, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
As farmers in East and Sub-saharan Africa, for example, women have many responsibilities: clearing land; planting activities; harvesting farm produce; cleaning stalls; milking animals; herding them, and providing them with water and feed. However, although they contribute so much to agriculture, FAO reveals that women have limited access to productive resources such as land, credit facilities, agricultural inputs, training, education, and extension services.
The Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) recently published an article on the role of rural women in food production in Latin America. The article revealed that 48% of the rural dwellers in Latin America are women. They mostly stay behind in villages to cultivate food crops and care for the children and elderly, and do other manual work while men migrate to urban areas searching for employment.
Among these women staying behind, a few, like María Lorenza Domínguez, Myleydy López, and Jaqueline del Carmen Mejía, have been able to get the attention of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), which provided funds for their business development through Colombia’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. While these women inspire hope that women can be empowered to counteract the effects of climate change, they are just very few out of the large numbers of women facing challenges in their capacities as food producers in Latin America.
Findings about the extent of involvement of women in agriculture in Asia are even fewer. Still, they’re sufficient to prove that women in the southeastern part of the continent lack control over land and capital and access to agricultural resources.
The United Nations (UN) predicts that the people who will be most negatively affected by climate change are those dependent on natural resources to make a living and those who have limited access to resources. Unfortunately, women fall into both categories. They head 40% of the world’s poorest households, constitute 70% of the world’s poor but own less than 10% of the land. They are also underrepresented in decision-making at the community level. Consequently, women have weaker control over resource distribution in the event of natural disasters such as floods and droughts caused by climate change.
Yet, these disasters could disrupt the farming activities of women or necessitate their relocation to internally displaced persons (IDP) camps. Relocation to IDP sites often increases gender-based violence, as women and girls are at greater risk of exploitation and abuse in the aftermath of disasters. For instance, after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the incidence of gender-based violence increased significantly, with women and girls being subjected to sexual violence at IDP camps with no help from the police.
Improving Access to Clean Energy
For women and girls who live in areas where fossil fuels are heavily used, the dependence on these fuels imposes a lot of stress. They must spend more time collecting and using them. This, according to the International Growth Center (IGC), increases the amount of time they spend on house chores and deprives them of the much-needed time to rest, go to school, and engage in income-generating ventures.
When clean energy systems such as solar systems, wind turbines, and micro-hydro systems are installed in areas where women hitherto heavily use fossil fuels, those women can have reliable and affordable access to electricity. This, in turn, allows them to upgrade to more efficient household appliances powered by electricity, thus saving them the time spent on gathering fossils and reducing the time spent on chores. It also frees up their schedules for more profitable activities, such as engaging in income-generating ventures or going to school so they can improve their lives.
In addition, harnessing clean energy in former fossil fuel-dependent communities helps women automate things they used to do by hand in their businesses—like irrigation and processing farm produce like grain.
However, women are not restricted to being consumers of renewable energy alone. Efforts are being made to increase the participation of women in the renewable energy sector, and this can make women more empowered to play their role in the fight against climate change. For example, Vice Impact reports that Barefoot College, a non-profit organization in India, trains rural women to become solar engineers, enabling them to install and maintain solar panels in their communities.
Creating Work Opportunities for Women in the Clean Energy Sector
The renewable energy field is growing fast and needs all kinds of skilled workers like engineers, builders, and managers. Promoting gender diversity in the renewable energy workforce can help to reduce gender disparities in employment and income. However, women are underrepresented in the clean energy sector. They account for only one-third of the global renewable energy workforce, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).
To fix this inequality, governments and global groups can encourage plans and projects that help women join in.
For instance, the African Energy Chamber joined the Equal By 30 project, which wants the same number of women working in clean energy by 2030. Also, Shortlist, a website for job ads, runs the Women for Green Jobs plan, which wants to employ 750 women as leaders in clean energy businesses in six African nations: Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and Uganda.
The development of renewable energy technologies and infrastructure can create new opportunities for women entrepreneurs and small businesses. For instance, women can establish their own small-scale renewable energy enterprises, which can provide energy services to their communities and generate income. Karolina Attspodina of Ukraine has co-founded We Do Solar, a business that helps people install solar systems on their balconies. Also, the organization Solar Sisters is empowering women like Loveness Sabaya of Tanzania to start up their solar energy businesses. This helps these women reach their economic goals. Sabaya, for example, has been able to build a house for her family using the proceeds from her solar lamp business.
Mitigating the Impacts of Climate Change
The transition to renewable energy can help to mitigate the impacts of climate change, which can have particularly severe consequences for women and girls in developing countries. By reducing the frequency and severity of extreme weather events, such as droughts and floods, renewable energy can help to protect the livelihoods of women who are often responsible for managing natural resources and agriculture. Plus, renewable energy can reduce greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change and make the air cleaner. This leads to better health, especially for women and children.
To achieve gender equity and reduce climate change through renewable energy, a range of policy recommendations are needed at both the national and international levels.
At the national level, governments can create courses on renewable energy in schools, help women connect with others in the clean energy field, and give tax breaks to new women-led clean energy businesses. They can also invest in eco-friendly technology, like solar water pumps and lights in rural areas where women and girls handle water collection and housework or in small energy networks for communities without electricity.
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Besides, international organizations like the United Nations and World Bank can support the transition to renewable energy in developing countries. They can give funding and technical support for projects encouraging women to be leaders in the green energy sector or programs that give women and girls in rural areas access to clean energy technology. These international groups can also ensure that women’s needs and priorities are included in plans to fight climate change. This means making strategies that specifically help women and girls deal with climate change and ensuring women can help make decisions about climate change policies.
Embracing renewable energy offers a powerful solution to sever the ties between gender inequality and climate change. This shift not only improves energy access but also opens up new avenues for women in the workforce. Furthermore, fostering gender diversity in the renewable energy industry and paving the way for female entrepreneurs and small businesses can significantly decrease gender-based income and employment disparities. However, this energy transition should also be both inclusive and fair, with women playing an active role in the decision-making processes that shape the future of energy.
Negative health impacts