New Forum to Help Develop Gender and Poverty-Sensitive Energy Policies in Asia-Pacific Region

Forum launched at meeting on how to bring gender perspective to national energy policies of developing countries

Efforts to develop gender- and poverty-sensitive energy policies in Asia and the Pacific received a boost today when experts and policy makers joined together to create a regional forum to help provide women and the poor with reliable access to energy.

The Policy Innovation Forum was officially launched by the International Network on Gender and Sustainable Energy (ENERGIA), in cooperation with the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), at the conclusion of a two-day meeting today in Bangkok, entitled High Level Regional Policy Meeting on Networking Towards Gender and Poverty Sensitive Energy Policies .

The creation of the Forum is the result of concerns that progress in achieving the Millennium Development Goals will be hampered – or even reversed – as a result of lack of energy supply in many rural areas in the region coupled with the food, fuel and financial crises. The Forum will push forward with new approaches that will lead to pro-poor and pro-women energy policies and programmes.

“The aim is help achieve affordable and equitable access to clean energy services essential to the social and economic integration of the poor and women into the mainstream of development in Asia-Pacific developing countries – and this Forum is a major step in that direction,” said Shigeru Mochida, ESCAP’s Deputy Executive Secretary.

The group of experts and policy makers making up the Forum membership will gradually be expanded to include other important actors at the national and regional levels.

“It would function as a community of practitioners and also serve as a lobbying force to push forward its messages,” said Shelia Oparaocha, ENERGIA’s International Coordinator. “Information will be shared, synergies will be strengthened, and joint projects will be developed.”

ENERGIA works from the belief that projects, programmes and policies that explicitly address gender, poverty and energy issues will result in better outcomes, in terms of the sustainability of energy services as well as the human development opportunities available to women and men.

World-wide, some 1.6 billion people remain without electricity and some 2.4 billion continue to rely heavily on traditional biomass for fuel, their main source of motive power being human and/or animal labour. Most are poor or near-poor and energy deprivation remains a core cause of their chronic poverty in developing countries. In turn, poverty inhibits people from gaining access to essential energy services, resulting in a vicious cycle that has proven stubborn to break.

Caught in this vicious cycle are women, for whom lack of access to modern fuels and electricity leaves no choice other than to depend on traditional fuels and physical labour. Steep rises in energy prices and their related impact on food prices have been a serious setback for poverty reduction.

“Women in developing countries are amongst those most affected by a lack of access to energy sources,” said Ms. Oparaocha. “Their long hours spent on daily survival tasks – fuel gathering, cooking and household chores – mean they have little room for self-development or for productive activities that can contribute to family incomes lifting them out of poverty.”

“Not only is the time spent on these chores a disadvantage, the use of biomass traditional stoves or on open fire has serious health effects for those exposed on a daily basis,” said ESCAP’s Deputy Executive Secretary Mochida, in his remarks at the meeting, adding that energy security needed to be pursued in the most economically, ecologically and socially sustainable manner.

A number of other issues were discussed during the high-level meeting. These included energy options for the livelihood needs for the poor and women in an era of high fossil fuel prices, transportation needs for the poor and women and regulatory options to enhance energy access. In addition, the opportunities and barriers to financing energy options and monitoring the effectiveness of policies and programmes were discussed.