What are the connections among fuel poverty, time poverty, and gender equity?

In 2020 about 2.3 billion people lacked access to safe, affordable, and clean sources of energy for cooking. In this article, I focus on one aspect of this problem: the gendered distribution of the costs associated with the collection and use of polluting fuels.

The collection, preparation, and use of firewood, crop residues, and animal dung sum to an arduous, time-consuming household task. The burden of this work disproportionately falls on women and girls in many regions. Surveys by the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves in the rural areas of three states in India indicate that women and girls frequently put in two-thirds of the time to collect and process fuels1.


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The nature and time requirement of fuel collection create an array of challenges for women and girls. A study in three rural provinces in South Africa demonstrated the extent to which the collection and use of solid fuels are dangerous and time-consuming, yields low-quality fuel, and degrades local ecosystems2.


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That same survey revealed the harmful impacts of energy poverty on the well-being of women and girls. A large fraction of respondents associated the use of solid fuels with income poverty, illiteracy, accelerated aging, and heightened physical risk from injury and sexual assault during the fuel collection process.


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Access to affordable clean cooking energy (gaseous fuels and electricity) in combination with modern, energy-efficient cook stoves yield many benefits, and one of them is time. Studies by the World Bank document the differences in cooking time across fuel types. Access to electricity and LPG significantly reduces the time that women spend preparing meals3. Note that these data refer only to cooking time. Additional time savings are generated from reduced collection and processing of solid fuels.


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What would women prefer to do with the extra time afforded by access to clean cooking fuels? The aforementioned study in three rural communities in India provides some insight. Some communities use additional time to do other household chores, while others allocate more to childcare, agricultural activities, socializing, and income-generating  jobs outside of the house. Via these outcomes, access to clean cooking fuels is often positively correlated with women’s labor force participation and control over household financial resources.


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1 Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves. 2014. Gender and Livelihoods Impacts of Clean Cookstoves in South Asia

2 Longe, Omowunmi Mary. “An Assessment of the Energy Poverty and Gender Nexus towards Clean Energy Adoption in Rural South Africa.” Energies 14, no. 12 (January 2021): 3708.

3  Energy Sector Management Assistance Program (ESMAP). 2020. The State of Access to Modern Energy Cooking Services. Washington, DC: World Bank. License: Creative Commons Attribution CC BY 3.0 IGO


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