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A world we want in 2030: Clean energy and gender equality are key

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NEW YORK—Imagine the world as you’d like to see it in 2030. What does it look like? My fellow panelists and I were asked this question as part of a discussion of access to energy as a driver of gender equality during UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) consultations last week.

CSW, now in its 59th year, opens annually on International Women’s Day, March 8, and this year drew a record crowd—with some 4,400 NGO participants from 640 organizations, up from the previous record of 3,443 representatives from 464 organizations in 2010. An additional 25,000 passes were printed for UN delegates, media, and others. 2015, after all, marks the 20th anniversary of the landmark Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action on gender equality and the launch of new sustainable development goals, which will include ambitious new targets aimed at empowering women and girls.

And what does my perfect future world—my “dream snapshot”—look like? I have in fact written three vision statements over the years. The first appeared in the book, Development, Crises, and Alternative Visions: Third World Women’s Perspectives in 1985; the second in the Millennium Project book, Taking Action, in 2005; and the third in the USAID Gender Equality Strategy

In Taking Action, I projected a world in which “women and men share equally in the enjoyment of basic capabilities, economic assets, voice, and freedom from fear and violence. They share the care of children, the elderly, and the sick; the responsibility for paid employment; and the joys of leisure.  In this world the resources now used for war and destruction are invested in human development and well-being, institutions, and decision-making processes are open and democratic, and all human beings treat each other with respect and dignity.”

It’s a world in which the World Bank Group has achieved its over-arching goals of eliminating extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity.

Concrete Progress

During that frenetic week at CSW discussions and panels in New York, I saw ample evidence of concrete strides in the right direction.

Let’s go back to energy. Clean cooking and solar power were on the agenda 25 years ago but acquired little traction for a variety of reasons, notably those related to undeveloped technology, cost, and products unsuited to women’s needs—so even when they were available freely, women didn’t use them. That has all changed.

The technology has improved, we have financing models, we have engaged women in the development and marketing of various products, and demand is growing in light of environmental, health and other issues. Multiple actors across sectors are collaborating to make it happen, to take innovations to scale.

The commitment on gender equality and energy issues around the room at the access to energy panel was impressive. A clean cookstoves display stood in back, showing how entrepreneurs are committed to improving the lives of women, who do the lion’s share of cooking.

We heard about the Sustainable Energy for All initiative and its commitment to gender equality and health. As the Bank goes forward mobilizing US $60 million for the Efficient Clean Cooking and Heating Partnership with the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, we know we cannot do this alone. We need to learn from and work with others.

The moderator asked how we get buy-in from colleagues to incorporate gender equality in their energy work.

On the Bank side, it’s clear: We need data and evidence showing why this is a smart investment. And the data are clear. We cannot address climate change, end poverty, or boost inclusive growth unless we close key gaps between women and men broadly, including in access to energy.

This might translate in various ways.
It might mean ensuring all households—including those that are poor—are affordably connected to the grid, employing women in the energy sector, or incorporating women’s concerns when designing and building energy infrastructure.
It could mean supporting female entrepreneurs so they can compete on an equal footing. It could mean anticipating and proactively addressing a possible spike in gender-based violence when a new mining project gets under way. 

Explaining the Bank Group’s work on gender and energy allowed me to reflect on and appreciate that we are not starting from scratch. My colleague Anita George, senior director of the Bank’s new Energy & Extractive Industries Global Practice, convened two town halls March 10 covering all regions to discuss how access to electricity can have profound impacts on women’s lives.

Her team’s ESMAP Gender & Energy and Gender in Extractives programs—along with regional programs in Africa and East Asia—focus on expanding the evidence base, working with operational teams and projects, and building capacity.

And they’re delivering results: In Senegal, they’re boosting the incomes of rural women who are now charcoal producers and entrepreneurs in the fuel supply chain. In Laos, targeted financing is helping households headed by women connect to the rural electric grid. 

We’ve sent astronauts to the moon and achieved countless medical and technological breakthroughs in the last century that were once thought wholly impossible.
Now it’s your turn: Imagine the world as you’d like to see it in 2030. Tell us about it, along with your ideas about how improving women and men’s access to clean energy can help us get there.


Caren Grown

Former Global Director, Gender

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