Gender awareness: Energy efficient housing through gender-responsive measures. Pt. II

Energy usage within households occurs in various forms, whether it is about heating, cooking or the use of electrical appliances. Comprehensive data on household energy consumption is already trying to paint a more accurate picture of its consumers. However, one important factor often does not receive the attention it deserves: gender. In the second part of the series, Kathrin Meyer explains how energy efficiency in the housing sector is wasted due to inadequate consideration of gender-responsive measures.

Gender-responsive approaches in housing policies can boost energy efficiency. (Public Domain)

The expression “the personal is political” has its origins in second-wave feminism and reveals the connections between social and political structures. Countless publications on care work, which describe unpaid labour such as childcare and domestic work, mostly done by women, show that housing is a shining example of how much truth is hidden within these words. Women are two to ten times more likely than men to perform unpaid household and reproductive tasks, contributing to an estimated 9% of the global GDP, if the hours spent on domestic tasks were to be given a monetary value. Thus, care work contributes to the maintenance of current economic structures. The non-recognition of this unpaid work leads to the perpetuation of social inequalities. But what does all this have to do with energy usage within housing?

Care work and energy consumption

When taking a deep look into caring responsibilities, we see that a lot of it is strongly connected with energy-usage. Cooking, cleaning, washing – you name it – are all sources of energy consumption that are statistically linked to the people who push the buttons to use it. This unintentional discrimination occurs with the selection process of how energy consumption is measured. The data is determined by a so-called who presses the button” principle. This means that the person who starts the washing machine, cooks or rinses is also the one to whom the energy usage is attributed, whether it is exclusively for them or for other people in the household. As care-work is often performed by women, the data refers mostly to them when it comes to a multi-person household. In addition to vaguely attributed energy consumption data, access to energy-efficient buildings and energy-saving appliances also play an important role when it comes to evaluating energy usage.

Increased energy consumption through discriminatory structures

As urbanisation rates are soaring rapidly all over the world and economic inequalities are growing, housing becomes a rare commodity. Discrimination within the housing market puts some in a more disadvantageous position than others. Factors like race, gender and disabilities play a decisive role within the search for tenants. As a result, women, LGBT*QI+ and Black people, People of Color as well as people with disabilities are often placed in buildings which do not have adequate insulation. Also, financial means to invest in energy-saving products are often rare due to economic discrimination and wage gaps. All mentioned factors come with a greater energy-usage as more electricity is needed for older devices and for badly insulated buildings. Ignoring these existing differences contributes to a significant waste of energy efficiency.

Responsive architecture

Within the ongoing pandemic the importance of housing has become dramatically clear. The crisis shed light on the need for architecture, which takes different human needs into account , meaning its ability to adapt pandemic preventative measures within buildings. Ideas for responsive architecture were always present and the relevance of the biological sex for adequate construction used to have a greater value attached  In 1993 sex-disaggregated data contributed to the construction of a new housing complex in Vienna which used data based findings to tackle the specific needs of the people who lived in it. Based on the identified additional care work tasks of women, Vienna built a mixed-use complex, keeping in mind that domestic and reproductive realms like transport, supermarkets, doctors and kindergartens have to be integrated or close by. The mixed-use approach builds bridges between two sectors, as energy within transport is saved simultaneously where places for basic needs are found close by and reduce the need for extensive mobility.

As sex-disaggregated data is associated with binary gender forms and heteronormativity, it has to be extended by the factor of gender which is focusing on socially and culturally constructed roles, rather than biological attributes. Keeping the existence of different needs in mind, responsive architecture can contribute to minimise the total energy usage. Moreover, a multidimensional perspective can contribute to energy savings within other sectors. The United Nations has recognised this importance by implementing the New Urban Agenda (NUA) in 2016. The NUA seeks to highlight the relevance of gender within the housing sector worldwide. This can already be seen as a step towards just and equal cities.

In the upcoming article of my three part series on an urgently needed gender-responsive energy sector,  I will proceed to extend the example of transport to get a more holistic view of how interdependent fields, taken together, could contribute to a big difference in our future energy use.


Kathrin Meyer studied Political Science, Sociology and Environmental Science in Germany, Cuba and Colombia. She is currently enrolled in the Master's program "Interdisciplinary Latin American Studies" at Freie Universität Berlin. Her research focus is resource dependence and energy policy in Latin America.

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