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energy, energy policy, EUCERS, gender dimension, gender equality, geopolitics, human rights, inequality, poverty, women

the gender dimension of energy policy

Article published in @EUCERS Newsletter of King’s College, London University

March is the month during which women’s day is celebrated. It is therefore a good opportunity to take a closer look at energy policy from a gender perspective. When policy makers take decisions with respect to energy issues, it is rare that they do so fully cognisant of the dramatically different gender dimensions of energy policy. This article aims to provide an overview of the gender dimensions of energy policy and advocates that it is essential that these taken into consideration in all energy policy decisions.

This article looks at the following five aspects of energy policy:

1. The role of women as policy makers in energy and the gender aspects of the energy industry.

2. What happens to sectors of the economy when a country discovers large hydrocarbon deposits: The Dutch Disease and does the discovery of oil or natural gas tend to perpetuate patriarchy?

3. The gender dimension of energy consumers.

4. Health issues related to energy and their gender dimensions.

5.Links between energy resources and conflicts and the effects on women.


  1. The Role of Women as Policy Makers in Energy and the Gender Aspects of the Energy Industry

Over the last decades, there has been a global trend for increased female empowerment, with the number of female parliamentarians growing by 5% between 1995-2002 . However, countries such as Algeria, Russia and Kazakhstan – all of which have enjoyed a sharp rise in oil revenues – saw a fall in female representation.

According to the UNIDO, worldwide, women occupy around 19% of all ministerial jobs, but only 7% of these are in environment, natural resources and energy[1]. The same report mentions: ‘evaluations from South Africa and Guatemala show that electrification has resulted in a 9% increase in female employment, with no comparable increase in male employment, and in Nicaragua electricity has increased the propensity of rural women to work outside the home by 23% while having no effects on male labour force participation’ [2]

Normally government spending is mainly from what is collected in taxes, which makes the population interested and involved in monitoring the financial decisions of governments: what they spend and on what. Oil and natural gas wealth tends to decouple citizens from their watchdog function of the government. In oil rich countries, government spending relies less on the taxes paid by citizens, citizens are therefore less interested and usually have less access to information, on how much money is being raised and who is spending it, on what. Oil wealth therefore often leads to bad and corrupt governments. The list is of oil/natural gas rich countries which are governed by corrupt governments is unfortunately long. In corrupt and bad governments, the role of women is even further marginalized.

2.What Happens to Sectors of the Economy When a Country Discovers Large Hydrocarbon Deposits: The “Dutch Disease” and Does Petroleum Perpetuate Patriarchy ?


The “Dutch Disease” is a phenomenon that was first identified and described in the late 1950’s when the Netherlands discovered very large natural gas deposits. The phenomenon – later named the “Dutch Disease” – basically describes the following mechanism: a sudden large increase in the revenues of a country that are from natural resources make the nation’s currency stronger compared with other countries and this in turn makes products exported from that country more expensive with regard to exports from other countries as imports become cheaper. This makes the manufacturing and the agriculture sectors of countries with large economic reliance on natural resources, less competitive and those sectors of the economy tend to shrink.

Oil is the world’s most capital-intensive industry, so it creates few jobs. Nonetheless, it is true, that the discovery of natural resources does create some job opportunities in the energy sector. However, the relatively few jobs that are created, tend to be either heavily physical labour intensive, which often go to men or are highly skilled engineering jobs which again tend to be filled in by men. While women account for more than half of university graduates in several OECD countries, they receive only 30 % of tertiary degrees granted in science and engineering fields.[3]

In contrast, the manufacturing and agriculture sectors that shrink are often the sectors where there is a relative high women employment. Michael L. Ross in his book “The Oil Curse: How Petroleum Wealth Shapes the Development of Nations’ looks at a number of countries that are oil rich and compares the oil income per capita of these countries and plots it against the percentage of parliamentary seats which are held by women. As can be seen from the chart below the countries with the highest oil income per capita tend to have less women parliamentarians.

It has been shown from empirical studies that oil wealth, in most cases, tends to negatively impact the status of women. In general, the extraction of oil and gas reduces the role of women in the workforce and their role in political influence. Exceptions do exist. Oil rich countries such as Norway, New Zealand, Australia, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, pre-war Syria, and Mexico have made faster progress on gender rights than other countries without oil wealth.

Some argue that the differences in the level of women that enter the labour force in one country, with respect to another, can be partly explained, by differences in the level of discrimination which is rooted in the cultural, religious and legal environment of each country. “Economic and political marginalization frequently go hand in hand: without jobs women have less political influence, without political influence women find it harder to get jobs.” As Michael L.Ross argues in his book this explanation is false or at best only partly true.

Oil exports from a country can have a detrimental effect on the role of women in society, as often, it leads to the decrease in the percentage of women in the labour force. Oil can have the opposite effect to manufacturing in a much as whereas the growth of the manufacturing sector tends to draw women out of the home and into the labour market, oil wealth encourages them to stay at home, and thus blocking their key pathway toward economic and political empowerment. In most countries, men are the main bread winners in families and women’s salaries, only marginally contribute to the total family income. Women’s employment is often in part-time jobs, lower wage jobs. In situations where oil wealth ‘pays’ for some of the expenses that families would be called to pay – such as some types taxes, or education bills – then the necessity to complement the main salary of the family by a marginal additional salary, become unnecessary and the women tend not to work.


In a very interesting analysis about the role of women in oil producers and in non-oil producers from different regions in the world – Ross demonstrates that the gap is largest in the Middle East and North America – where the number of working women is about 23% lower in the oil states than in the non-oil states. Oil states also have a significantly lower number of women in government – with the difference in the Middle East being more prominent with non-oil states having more than three times more female parliamentarians than the oil producing states.


Ross compared Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. All three countries have the same religion, but Algeria having over half of the per capita income from oil, whereas Morocco and Tunisia have almost no per capita income from oil. Female labour participation in Algeria was at 12 % while in Morocco and Tunisia it was more than double (26% and 25 % respectively) and the female held parliamentary seats were 6% in Algeria and 11% and 23 % respectively in Morocco and Tunisia. Data and analysis clearly indicate that low participation of women in the work force or in parliament is influenced by the big share of oil in the GDP of a country, and cannot be purely attributed to religious or cultural aspects.

3.The Gender Dimension of Energy Consumers

First of all, it has to be stressed that the per capita consumption of energy, differs if we are considering the developed or the developing world, i.e.:

  • In Europe – per capita energy consumption is predominantly on: Heating/cooling, electricity and primarily for mobility and transport (i.e. cars)
  • Whereas, in developing countries, energy consumption is on electricity, for domestic, medicine, education, enterprises- even small scale ones

The energy use per capita, in European countries, is greater among men than women. For example: in Germany and Norway men consume 70-80% more energy than women; in Sweden 100%; and in Greece 350%[4]. These dramatic differences are primarily due, to the fact that the biggest share of the per capita energy consumption, is from transport and particularly from the use of cars. In countries like Greece, most households would only have one car which is usually used by the man. Women tend to work within shorter distances from the home and tend to use public transport more. Therefore, if a country decides to focus on creating and improving its public transport system, it will influence the energy use per capita of men and women differently.

4. Health Issues Related to Energy and their Gender Dimension

In most developing countries women experience energy poverty more severely than men. Their role is often more associated with household activities and they are often the ones that have to spend most of their days in time-consuming and physically difficult tasks of collecting biomass fuels and are thus prohibited from using their time, on other activities, such as going to school or working in a wage earning activities.

At the same time cooking indoors with biomass and other fuels such as coal, charcoal, wood and dung has particularly negative effect on the health of women and girls. It is estimated that this causes 85% of all deaths attributed to indoor air pollution, which are estimated to be about 2 million deaths per year globally. “In fact, illnesses from indoor pollution result in more deaths of women and children annually than HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and malnutrition combined. Other important direct health impacts from dirty energy use and indoor pollution include life-long or chronic disease such as asthma; burns to children; injuries to women from carrying wood; and increased violence against women and girls because of lack of street lighting at night.”

5.Energy and Conflict and the Effects on Women

Since the early 1990’s, oil producing countries have been about 50% more likely than non oil producing countries to have civil wars.

Paul Collier and Anke Hoeffler have showed[5] that if a third or more of a country’s GDP comes from the export of primary commodities, the likelihood of conflict is 22 per cent. Similar countries, that do not export commodities, have a 1 per cent chance. Therefore, there is twenty two times more chance of conflict if you are an oil or gas exporter.

We know at the same time, that fragility and conflict effect women and girls differently from men and boys. Women and girls suffer disproportionately from violent conflicts. They do not only suffer from the by-products of war but also they are often targeted, as a strategy of war. Unfortunately there are many cases in the world where this has been documented.


In the brief analysis given above, has presented data on the role of women as policy makers in energy and the gender aspects of the energy industry, what happens to sectors of the economy when a country discovers large hydrocarbon deposits, the different profiles of men and women as consumers of energy, health issues related to energy and how the discovery of hydrocarbons greatly increases the possibility of a conflict. In all of the above, the gender aspects of energy have been quite profound and quite different.

It can therefore be concluded that it is critical to consider the gender aspects of energy policy, both in order to take into consideration women’s needs and capabilities as well as women’s skills and expertise. There is enough empirical evidence to say that failing to do so is promoting patriarchy and at the end of the day, does not make neither economic nor social and political sense.


[1] Sustainable Energy for All: the gender dimensions – UNIDO – UN Industrial Development Organisation and UN Women report

[2] [2] Sustainable Energy for All: the gender dimensions – UNIDO – UN Industrial Development Organisation and UN Women report – page 13

[3] UNIDO Study

[4] http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0301421509005977#

[5] http://economics.ouls.ox.ac.uk/12055/1/2002-01text.pdf


chart energy gender


EUCERS newsletter42

page 5-9

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About Androulla Kaminara

Ex SCR member of St.Antony's College, Oxford University, 2013-24 Academic Visitor and 2012-13 EU Fellow Ex Senior Academic Associate- Non-resident of EUCERS, King's College, London University Views are personal.


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