Gender frameworks within energy efficiency efforts are key for the construction of a more sustainable future. In this three-part series Kathrin Meyer explains the connection between energy and gender and why sustainable energy supply is not feasible without the use of gender-sensitive data.
According to the United Nations, the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) number 5 – Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls is the is the “foundation of a peaceful, prosperous and sustainbale world“. This goal stands alongside other aims such as SDG 7 which describes the importance to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all. One might assume that the SDGs pursued by many states and actors around the world would have a serious impact on projects and that they would consider issues according to their mutual dependence, such as gender equality and energy which would help them to meet international agendas of sustainability and equality. Unfortunately, this is often not the case. Although numerous international conventions and gender action plans are already available, there’s still a significant data gap and it’s one of the key obstacles when it comes to the connection of energy and gender. Since energy consumption data are often collected without any gender-specific differentiation, the data appears to be neutral, but is actually imprecise and ignores the fact that access to energy is not equal an therefore used and perceived a divergent way.
One strategy that attempts to overcome neutrality is gender mainstreaming. It aims to integrate the gender perspective into public policy-making. Furthermore, it promotes equality by challenging and improving existing structures. To achieve a sustainable and inclusive transformation comprehensive indicators must be considered. Therefore differences such as “race, ethnicity, religion, disability, age or sexual orientation” have to be taken into account within gender mainstreaming.
Gender-sensitive energy approaches in public policy are more common within the Global South, where the focus is mainly on international cooperation and poverty reduction. Regarding the relationship between energy and gender, the emphasis lies on the traditional binary perception of gender roles, distinguishing between women and men. Most common are approaches for the minimisation of traditional female roles as caregivers through electrification and projects to promote women as new entrepreneurs within national energy sectors. However, while these projects recognise that energy is not gender neutral, they still tend to overlook the potential to make energy intensive sectors more energy efficient.
Gender differences in energy usage within housing and transportation
Several researchers have outlined gender differences in energy consumption at the households’ level. Factors influencing energy use are beside the condition of buildings, traceable to the quantity and age of used technical equipment and individual behaviour in terms of energy consumption, such as electricity and heating. A study by the Swedish Defence Research Agency (FOI) compared the energy use of Germany, Norway, Greece and Sweden and found that the energy consumption of male households is 6-38% higher in comparison to female households. Other studies showed serious deviations from these results and found an increased energy demand among female households. Later attempts to explain these different findings showed that female households tend to use more energy for heating and for technical appliances, as women are more likely to own older and therefore more energy-intensive devices, spend more time at home and live in buildings that are less well isolated. These results can be partly attributed to differences in economic positions, as women are more likely to receive lower incomes.
An additional point is the gender-binary nature of marketing for more efficient technical equipment, which primarily targets male customers and does not take the different needs and use of energy of women into account. Moreover, social roles and their effects on the respective energy consumption are often not considered. Thus, energy usage which occurs due to household management is often attributed to women. The unequal distribution of care work is therefore often ignored in the evaluation of energy data. Interestingly, this statistical discrimination is also the case for the measurement of energy consumption within the transport sector.
Although several studies highlight the different transportation preferences of men and women, gender-sensitive approaches that examine infrastructure services are hardly known by a broader public. The FOI study showed that men in Norway consumed 70% more energy on transport such as gasoline, while in Greece the difference was about 350%. The more common use of vehicles by men when it comes to long distance journeys, as well as the possession of cars with higher energy consumption rates might help to explain this exorbitant differences. Women, on the other hand, are more likely to use public transport. Since women usually have fewer financial resources and are therefore more limited in their choices, one cannot overlook the fact that energy use is as well influenced by respective economic resources. Even though women use public transport more often, thus consuming less energy, transport infrastructure is still designed for male travel patterns which tend to be more linear and direct (From A to B). Women’s travel behaviour is often associated with greater complexity, as women make more frequent stops to perform professional and care functions.
Gender-sensitive data as transformative approach
As energy consumption patterns differ between countries and regions, a more detailed evaluation of the two sectors is needed. Gender sensitivity that aims exclusively at the different use of existing structures by the genders will not promote sustainable transformation. To achieve this, it is essential to ensure a balanced influence of each gender at the decision-making level.
Therefore, the three-part series will attempt to shed light on consumption, decision-making patterns and consisting inequalities to provide an outlook on possible transformation approaches for housing and transportation. The articles will show how the exclusion of gender-sensitive approaches wastes an important potential for adapting energy to specific needs. Furthermore, it will be shown how the collection and integration of gender-sensitive data can be helpful to identify divergent energy needs and to design a better route towards a sustainable and just energy transition.