Clean energy access for women and girls

Here’s my fifth blog from New York – this time on clean energy access for women and girls. Also available here.

There’s a key ingredient to women’s equality that just hasn’t made it far enough up the agenda, yet could literally power development: energy access for women and girls.

So, this morning, I spoke at a meeting hosted by the Global Alliance of Clean Cookstoves, of which I am a leadership council member, and Energia. I was also joined by Cathy Russell, US Ambassador for Global Women’s Issues. We were there to work out how to get clean energy access for women and girls firmly on the development agenda.

Women and girls’ limited access to clean energy has extremely negative consequences on their quality of life, as I’ve written before.  Put simply, without energy access, women and girls in the developing world are even more time-poor – time spent collecting fuel and water is time not spent on education or on paid work. They are least safe when they are out collecting fuel and water. And smoke-related illnesses are one of the greatest causes of ill-health for women and children.

That is why I have launched a DFID campaign to improve the economic opportunities, safety and health of girls and women through clean and affordable energy. I am working closely with the UN’s Sustainable Energy for All initiative – which took up my suggestion to focus the first two years of the Decade of Sustainable Energy for All on women and girls. And I am working to raise the profile of the women and girls’ limited access to clean energy, and to advocate for the international community to do more.

Research is an important first step to demonstrating the extent of the issue and developing and scaling up practical solutions. In May, DFID will be co-hosting a conference in London with the World Health Organisation and the Global Alliance of Clean Cookstoves to bring together research on clean cooking. Just last week, research that DFID and the Alliance jointly conducted was commended by the UK Climate Week awards. This research supports the Alliance’s target to enable 100 million households to adopt clean and efficient cooking practices by 2020.

The energy and development communities are finally beginning to understand and respond to the gravity of this issue and the need for action. But there is a need to improve awareness and action more broadly, and to push the international community to recognise that energy is a critical element in building gender equality and improving women’s health and economic opportunities – one that really can power progress on development.