Exploring the Relationship Between Energy Access and Gender-Based Violence
More than one in three women have experienced violence — that is 700 million women.
USAID is part of the international community for the global campaign, 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence. The international campaign originated from the first Women’s Global Leadership Institute coordinated by the Center for Women’s Global Leadership in 1991.
Power Africa is supporting this campaign by outlining the ways in which the energy sector can contribute to efforts to combat Gender-Based Violence. To learn more about USAID’s response, please visit the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence website.
Gender-based Violence (GBV) is an umbrella term that captures the unequal power and control exerted by one party over another, which can take a variety of forms including physical or sexual violence, emotional and/or financial abuse. While increasing access to electricity, by itself, cannot equalize power relations or eliminate GBV, strong arguments support the inclusion of energy access programming as one component of multiple interventions to address GBV. These interventions relate primarily to access to information, economic empowerment, safety, and education, particularly for women.
Access to information
Evidence demonstrates that women in electrified households report significantly lower acceptance of domestic violence. One reason is that electricity increases women’s access to information; enabling exposure to different worldviews, where GBV is considered unacceptable by women in various public roles enjoying equal status with men. The media may also address gender issues directly such as GBV or women’s health. The more information that girls and women have access to, the greater understanding they will have of their rights, and the less accepting they may be of stereotyped roles and violence.
Access to electricity is a powerful engine for women’s economic empowerment. Evidence shows that the income of self‐employed, rural women who have access to energy are more than twice that of their counterparts without access to energy. Further evidence demonstrates that women are more likely to become wage earning workers outside the home when they have access to electricity.
Women’s economic empowerment, in turn, is an important component in addressing some of the factors that make women vulnerable to GBV. When women benefit from opportunities for income generation, they may gain more bargaining power in the home. When women contribute to a household’s income, social norms regarding traditional roles may begin to change for the positive. This type of social change may lead to reductions in GBV incidences; however, it should be noted that it can also have the opposite result, leading to increased GBV. Where women’s economic empowerment is a strategy to reduce GBV, access to electricity can significantly enhance those empowerment efforts.
Studies demonstrate mixed data with respect to the correlation between public lighting and reductions in crime and GBV. A positive correlation has, however, been demonstrated between electrification and women’s perceptions of safety. Women are afraid to travel before dawn and after dusk where there is no lighting and this restricts their movement and activity.
In addition, in the absence of electricity, women are responsible for fuel collection, often requiring them to venture long distances for firewood in areas where they become more vulnerable to sexual violence. Providing electricity reduces women and girls’ need to collect fuel wood, thereby limiting their exposure to the risk of GBV.
There is a clear correlation between access to electricity and girls’ education. Studies demonstrate that lighting at home and in schools increases girls’ school attendance and educational attainment levels. Where access to electricity is linked to better education outcomes for girls, it can be considered a contributing factor to prevent child marriage.
Child marriage is a form of GBV in itself, and it also increases girls’ vulnerability to violence. Studies indicate that access to safe and accessible education is a principal protective factor for young girls helping to mitigate child marriage. Girls who are in secondary school are up to six times less likely to marry, compared to girls with little or no education.
Many energy sector investments involve infrastructure development. A strong body of literature details incidents when infrastructure development has failed to consider gender-based issues, resulting in increased risks and vulnerabilities for sexual violence, exploitation, or harassment in communities. This is in part due to infrastructure projects relying largely on male dominated management and labor forces, and not engaging adequately with female stakeholders throughout construction. While this is not a direct impact of electrification, infrastructure development issues must be understood and addressed by the energy sector. The gender equality community of practice has developed best practices that should be adhered to by all stakeholders in energy infrastructure development in order to mitigate these risks.
Opportunities for Impact
Energy sector stakeholders including Governments, the donor community, and private sector partners should collaborate with one another while considering the following interventions:
- Electrify institutions that directly support efforts to address GBV such as GBV response centers or health clinics.
- Electrify schools as part of strategies to improve girls’ learning opportunities.
- Build capacity of private sector partners to incorporate GBV-prevention considerations in project design.
- Build capacity of government and other partners to understand the possible impact that energy sector policies could have on preventing GBV.
- Where energy access programs target female entrepreneurs, also engage men as beneficiaries and promote positive male behavior change programming to minimize the risk of increased GBV in the home.
- Measure impacts and build evidence that supports a case for energy access as a contributing intervention to address GBV.
Women in African Power
Launched by Power Africa, Women in African Power is a network aimed at promoting the participation and elevating the presence of women in Africa’s energy sector. Women in African Power is made up of a diverse group of women leaders and emerging leaders, representing government, private sector, civil society, and academia. The network provides a regional platform for networking, information exchange, mentorship, and exposure to new business opportunities. Click here to learn more about Power Africa’s work with Women in African Power.