Eyes on the GGCA at CSW59: Health, Livelihood, Gender & Environmental Benefits of Access to Energy for Girls & Women

Our own Vicky Markham, GGCA Network Development Officer, covered GGCA Member's participation at UN CSW 59th session side-events, New York, NY, March 2015. This is the third in a series of blogs about the events, their highlights, speakers, discussions and GGCA member involvement.

This afternoon I saw a new dimension of GGCA members' work at an official CSW59 NGO parallel event held at the "Church Center for the United Nations", a popular NGO venue directly across the street from the UN headquarters. The event on "Health, Livelihood, Gender & Environmental Benefits of Access to Energy for Girls & Women", was held on Monday, March 9, 2015, 12:30-2:00pm at the multi-denominational chapel and featured a particular aspect of gender and climate change, that of "energy access as relates to women and girls".

GGCA member Energia hosted the panel with the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, and featured GGCA members IUCN, UN Women and Solar Sister, with Ghanaian-based NGO Anomena Ventures, as speakers (below).

GGCA Members at CSW59 Side-Event. Photo: V. Markham/GGCA
GGCA Members at CSW59 Side-Event. Photo: V. Markham/GGCA

Energia founding member Joy Clancy opened and moderated, posing the often-asked question, "What does energy have to do with women?". The guest panelists had plenty of answers, providing a detailed synopsis of how the two are linked and at the core of the CSW59 and UN's Post 2015 development agenda process. Ms. Clancy demonstrated recurring themes of gender and energy-related inequality at the heart of the climate change issue from the village to global levels, saying:

  • In developing nations women deliver most of the household energy needs, while men are in charge of making decisions, and;
  • There are disproportionate health impacts on women and girls because they are in the enclosed areas cooking and heating their homes, thus subject to unclean stove and heating processes.

She pointed out the lack of quantitative data to support this anecdotal evidence, a central, recurring theme brought up in other UN side-events this week (Blog #2 GGCA at CSW).

Corinne Hart of the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves discussed their ambitious target of 100 million households using clean cookstoves by 2020. She described their specific "gender strategy" which entails highlighting women's role in scaling up cookstove use. Corinne reiterated that building a strong evidence base is a core part of their main goals to empower women and girls, and scale up cookstove use. In addition, increasing capacity for women entrepreneurs and access to finance are among their main objectives. Their innovative Women's Empowerment Fund will help lead the way in this effort. It is one of the few financing mechanisms designed to scale effective business models for empowering women energy entrepreneurs, and is a financing mechanism to realize women’s empowerment goals. Applicants will use innovative business models that strengthen women’s livelihood opportunities by bundling household energy products and/or diversifying the suite of products for women to produce, distribute and maintain.

Tanzanian woman at her cookstove. Photo credit: Woodrow Wilson Center, ECSP, Sean Peoples
Tanzanian woman at her cookstove.
Photo credit: Woodrow Wilson Center, ECSP, Sean Peoples

Key challenges Corinne noted included how to make the case to environmental groups as to why gender is at the core of their work. She noted that gender workshops for NGOs has been effective, as well as larger efforts such as the UN and World Bank's "Sustainable Energy for All Initiative", and the process of relaying success of scaling up at the grassroots levels and linking them to local and state organizations was effective, too.

Lorena Aguilar, GGCA Steering Committee Member and Global Senior Advisor of the IUCN, described how her team works on gender and the energy sector, using climate change as their entry point. Lorena helped us see the trends through data: 780 million women and children worldwide breath contaminated air from unsafe cookstoves. She discussed the importance of building knowledge, being undertaken, for example, through the Climate Investment Funds (CIF), designed to bridge the financing and learning gap between now and the next international climate change agreement. The CIF has helped countries to continue on their development path through the UN's Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and now, through the UN's Post 2015 development agenda's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Lorena highlighted that addressing gender and energy at both local, household level, as well as more broadly at the global, corporate levels must be done simultaneously for it to be effective. She said the energy sector is male-dominated and as a result women are not motivated to be part of it, and that must be changed through how energy is perceived and addressed, with women in the picture. She encouraged us to think outside the box, putting women in traditionally male-dominated fields, to be, for example, energy traders and other non-traditional, decision-making roles. In the context of energy and climate change, she encouraged mainstreaming gender more broadly, extending women's roles in this context from the local, community or household levels, to bigger arenas at the national and global levels.

Seemin Qayum of UN Women presented how women and girls suffer disproportionately because of their role as primary collectors of water, food, fuel for their families in developing nations, with little of the decision or "ownership" privileges to go along with it. She called for cost benefit and risk assessment approaches that includes gender equality, and investing in scaling-up clean cookstoves as a sustainable investment worth making. "It's good for women, good for sustainable development, good for sustainable investment", she stated. She noted we are making progress because there is a dedicated gender equality goal in the current SDGs, unlike in the MDGs.

Sabina Anokye Mensah, CEO of Ghanaian based Anomena Ventures provided a profile of the issues in Ghana, saying the concern is widespread household air pollution from cookstove smoke, as in other countries. She explained that the key entry points for women in her country are faith-based groups, international aid agencies, and street vendors, to carry the safe cookstove messages. She felt that women need to be at the top as board members, part of the decision making team to alter the status quo.

Neha Misra Solar Sister co-founder wrapped it up by describing how they use a multi-faceted approach to recruit, train and mentor women and girls in business and entrepreneurial skills. Neha described their stunning success, starting with just 10 girls in Uganda, and now up to 1200 in that country, Nigeria and Kenya. They are currently partnering with the Avon company in their "Solar Sisters Entrepreneurs" program, relaying stories of "light, hope and opportunity".

She summed it up well by saying we are moving the narrative from viewing women and girls as victims, to them as operators and change agents. "It's about energizing the world" she said, with women at the helm.

Next, join me for Blog#4 in our series, where GGCA champions take center stage in a major CSW59 side-event on "Gender Inequality and Climate Change: How to Tackle a Double Injustice".