Relevance of gender in the policy area

Energy is a driver of economic development, underpinning all forms of economic activity. It is also a significant aspect of everyday life through its domestic uses and its role in modern communications, transport and technology. Furthermore, energy production and use is closely connected with climate change.

Energy plays an essential role in both women’s and men’s lives. However, it has been recently acknowledged that energy policy is not gender neutral. Achieving gender equality in the field of energy can be linked with human rights and social, environmental and economic development.

From a gender and human rights perspective, women and men have different energy needs.

Women spend more time than men in unpaid household work. This means that women spend more time at home and are therefore more dependent than men on heating and indoor air quality. In addition, women are more dependent on energy to use household devices (e.g. ovens, dishwashers and vacuum cleaners). Poor housing conditions (such as poorly insulated environments) and pollutant electronic devices and fuels may have a negative impact on women’s health.

According to the OECD, energy availability trends affect women and men differently. For instance, blackouts that occur during meal preparation can mean more work for women. Certain aspects of access to energy (e.g. cost and physical distribution) may also affect women and men differently. European Commission research suggests that more women than men may be subject to energy poverty. Energy poverty, also known as fuel poverty, is an expression used to describe a situation where “a household is unable to afford the most basic levels of energy for adequate heating, cooking, lighting and use of appliances in the home”. Elderly women are at higher risk of fuel poverty due to their higher life expectancy and lower pensions. This risk is also shared by lone female-headed households that have lower incomes. Member States have both recognised and chosen to address the issues of vulnerable consumers and energy poverty. A strong subsidiarity approach takes account of national differences, but there is a danger of Member States not addressing energy affordability and additional consumer protection, or access to markets for vulnerable consumers. There is also a risk of actions in favour of vulnerable consumers not contributing to measures to address energy poverty.

According to the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE), women tend to be more sustainable consumers than men:

  • they are more likely to buy eco-labelled products.
  • they pay more attention to green procurement.
  • they attach more importance to energy-efficient transport and fuels.
  • they are more willing to change their behaviours to achieve sustainability goals, including energy efficiency.

Research carried out in Sweden shows that women are more likely to feel greater concern about their ecological footprint (61% of all women compared to 43% of all men). They are more willing to reduce their carbon emissions by buying from companies and producers whose activity mitigates climate change, such as organic food producers.

For economic growth, the green economy is a key economic factor underpinning national and EU development. Investments in green jobs in the energy efficiency and renewable energy sectors are expected to bring about investments of over €2 billion by 2020. According to Greenpeace and the European Renewable Energy Council, innovation in renewable energy production will contribute to 2.7 million more jobs in the sector over the next 20 years. However, this enormous potential growth is at risk due to the lack of suitable specialists in the field. Increasing women’s participation in the green labour market may help to address the workforce shortage. In 2010, only 22.1% of those employed in the energy sector were women.

Increasing women’s involvement in the field of energy has the potential to stimulate sustainable economic growth. Gender parity would consolidate women’s right to equality and represent a significant social achievement.

Yet this potential is blocked by persistent gender inequalities. First of all, women are often employed in low-qualified and non-technical jobs in the energy sector. This may be related to the fact that fewer women than men undertake studies in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Moreover, the average digital literacy of women is lower than that of men. Women’s participation in the energy labour market is also discouraged by gender stereotypes, which portray the energy sector as a technical working environment that is unsuitable for women.

Women are also less likely to hold decision-making positions in the energy sector. The absence of women in energy policy and strategy planning decreases the likelihood that women’s interests and needs will be taken into account.

The energy sector is influenced by a set of persistent gender inequalities, which can be summarised as follows:

  • gender gaps in energy access.
  • gender gaps in the energy labour market.
  • gender gaps in energy-related education, namely segregation of women and men students across fields of study.
  • gender gaps in decision-making.

Gender inequalities in the policy area - Main issues

Gender equality policy objectives at EU and international level

Policy cycle in energy

Click on a phase for details

How and when? Energy and the integration of gender dimension into the policy cycle

Gender dimension can be integrated in all phases of the policy cycle. For a detailed description of how gender can be mainstreamed in each phase of the policy cycle click here.

Below, you can find useful resources and practical examples for mainstreaming gender into the energy. They are organised according to the most relevant phase of the policy cycle they may serve.

Practical examples of gender mainstreaming in energy


The key milestones of the energy policy are presented below.

Current policy priorities at EU level

The energy union policy is based on five mutually-reinforcing and closely interrelated dimensions designed to bring greater energy security, sustainability and competitiveness:
  • energy security, solidarity and trust.
  • a fully integrated European energy market.
  • energy efficiency contributing to moderation of demand.
  • decarbonising the economy.
  • research, innovation and competitiveness.

Energy detailed objectives and targets are included in the EU 2020, 2030 and 2050 energy strategies.

The main EU energy policy priorities by 2020 are:
  • making Europe more energy-efficient by accelerating investment into efficient buildings, products and transport.
  • building a pan-European energy market by constructing the necessary transmission lines, pipelines, LNG terminals and other infrastructure. By 2015, no EU country should be isolated from the single market.
  • protecting consumer rights and achieving high safety standards in the energy sector.
  • implementing the strategic energy technology plan – the EU′s strategy to accelerate the development and deployment of low carbon technologies such as solar power, smart grids and carbon capture and storage.
  • pursuing good relations with the EU’s external suppliers of energy and energy transit countries.
  • supporting entrepreneurship to make European business fitter and more competitive.
  • covering every part of the increasingly international value chain from access to raw materials to after-sales service.
EU energy targets to be achieved by 2020 are included in the EU 2020 strategy:
  • reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 20% compared to 1990 levels by 2020. The EU is prepared to go further and reduce by 30% if other developed countries make similar commitments and developing countries contribute according to their abilities, as part of a comprehensive global agreement.
  • increasing the share of renewable in final energy consumption to 20%.
  • moving towards a 20% increase in energy efficiency.
By 2030, the EU aims to reach the following targets in the energy field:
  • a 40% cut in greenhouse gas emissions compared to 1990 levels.
  • at least a 27% share of renewable energy consumption.
  • at least 27% energy savings compared with the business-as-usual scenario.
By 2050, the EU aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% – 95% when compared to 1990 levels. The main priorities set for reaching this objective are:
  • decarbonising the energy system.
  • increasing the share of renewable energy and using energy more efficiently.
  • investing in infrastructure and replacing old infrastructure in place; designing the common energy market.

Furthermore, the EU aims to allow labour market and skills policies to play an active role in supporting employment and job creation in the green economy.

To achieve this, the Commission sets the following priorities of activities:
  • bridging the skills gaps.
  • anticipating change, securing transitions and promoting mobility.
  • supporting job creation.
  • increasing data quality

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