Energy Access as a Driver of Gender Equality: What is the Evidence?

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2020-05-22

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Abstract

Executive Summary

Introduction

Policy Problem. Worldwide, 2.7 billion people rely on traditional fuels such as wood, charcoal, agricultural residue, and animal dung for their cooking and heating needs (Mulugetta et al., 2019). Meanwhile, 1.4 billion do not have access to electricity (Gould et al., 2018). Lack of energy access negatively impacts outcomes as varied as health, time savings, economic empowerment, and education. Solid fuel use leads to household air pollution (HAP) exposure, causing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), pulmonary tuberculosis, pneumonia, lung cancer, and acute respiratory infection (ARI).

Primitive cookstoves can cause burns and fires in the home. The act of collecting solid fuels can also cause back pain and be extremely time-consuming, thereby restricting time for other activities. The absence of electricity, meanwhile, can increase the time spent on chores, restrict educational opportunities, and pose a safety concern (due to low lighting in dangerous areas). For each of these outcomes, evidence suggests that women are more severely impacted than men.

Policy Question. “Does energy access contribute to increased gender equality?” This project seeks to understand the extent to which energy access, namely clean cooking access and electrification, benefits women through improvements in outcomes that can include health, time savings, education, and economic empowerment. This project defines interventions contributing to increased gender equality as those that benefit women relative to men. This includes interventions that benefit women but do not benefit men and those that benefit women more than men. Studies that find a positive impact of a given intervention on women—but do not study the impact on men—cannot be used as evidence of gender empowerment.

Methodology

The Sustainable Energy Transitions Initiative (SETI) conducted an ambitious systematic review in which the researchers examined nearly 80,000 peer-reviewed articles related to energy and development (Jeuland et al. 2019; Pattanayak et al., 2018). The team identified 3,183 quantitative studies on affordable and clean energy, which they then categorized according to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (Jeuland et al. 2019; Pattanayak et al., 2018). Of these studies, 67 demonstrate the effect of energy access on gender equality. This project examines the studies in this sample that find a statistically significant relationship between energy access and gender equality. As the SETI study concluded in 2017, this project also collects and presents studies relating to energy access and gender equality written in the past three years.

Results

Evidence strongly supports that health benefits resulting from energy access contribute to gender equality. By far, health is the most well-supported pathway for gender equality in peer-reviewed studies that examine the impact of energy access on women. Organizations undertaking development work can credibly claim that energy access and clean cooking solutions benefit the health of women.

Evidence moderately supports that time savings, education, and economic empowerment from energy access contribute to gender equality. The evidence for each of these pathways is limited to a handful of studies, even though these studies often find a sizable impact of energy access on any one of these three outcomes.

Recommendations

  1. Evidence strongly supports that health benefits from energy access contribute to gender equality.

  2. Evidence moderately supports that time savings, education, and economic empowerment from energy access contribute to gender equality.

  3. More studies need to be undertaken that examine women’s benefits of energy access relative to men.

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Citation

Robinette, Forrest (2020). Energy Access as a Driver of Gender Equality: What is the Evidence?. Master's project, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/21169.


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