18 Mar Gender equality and access to energy Unexpectedly related (*)
During the “dark neoliberal era” one of the most important public policies in Bolivia was the need to educate women. The reason was clear and simple: since primary education of human being comes from the mother, the multiplier effect to educate women it’s remarkable because this education can be extended to children… and in some cases husbands. Today things are different, gender equality is reach through legal framework, forcing public institutions to hire a minimum percentages of women, this naturally improves jobs access in public sector, but its impact on private sector is doubtful. From my point of view, educate women improves the chances of finding employment in both, public and private sectors.
In this context, the curious reader may wonder what energy can do to reach gender equality? It turns out that energy sector has much to say (and help) in these matter, although at first sight seem strange but then is quite reasonable. For this reason, I share with you two of many mechanisms how energy access in a country can improve lives of women.
“Gas for Bolivians” is a cute and catchy slogan widely used in my country to win some votes. Under this motto, in recent years aggressive public policies were implemented to expand natural gas networks for households. Prices are low and energy is available for many urban households, however, a question remains, is this progressive politics? Does benefit the poorest in the country? The answer is no… not always. It turns out that the poorest in our country (and many in Latin America) use wood as the main energy input.
Furthermore, exploring the behavior of rural families that use wood for cooking, are young women, usually between 10 and 20 years, who do the work of pick wood. In many opportunities, this task takes between 1 and 2 hours to get enough wood or between 2 and 4 when in rainy season. Naturally this situation is aggravated because deforestation (result of this activity). In this sense, the logic is clear and simple, improving access to energy in poor rural households released for young women one of the most precious assets of human beings: time. Time that could be used to study, improve their performance, training in technical activities or find a paid job; in vision of Professor Sen, will help women to be free.
One of the professionals more recognized (globally) handling and presenting complex statistics is Professor Hans Rossling. I met him thanks to the great initiative Ted Talks, first explaining the growth in the world and, recently, with a provocative video on how to improve women situation through washing machines, you can see the video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BZoKfap4g4w. Speech of Professor Rosling is fantastic (in the best sense of the word), because it gives good information, with simple graphics talks about how to change energy consumption in the future, without affecting the environment and above all, it speaks how the access to washing machines frees up time for women. What Professor Rosling observed in Europe during the last century, is that access to this simple appliance provided women more time for education, resulting thus in a better life for the family.
This text is intended to be a provocation, especially for younger readers, to develop more research about energy and human development. In Bolivia, as in most oil producing countries, the discussion is highly concentrated in the generation and appropriation of the “oil rets”… the political benefits of this are juicy. However, there are links between the energy sector and human development which deserves a little more research. Liberal finally, I still believe in the individual.
Mauricio Medinaceli Monroy
Cochabamba, March 18, 2012
(*) This text is based on a joint research project with the ARU Foundation (www.aru.org.bo)