Ahead of International Women's Day, EIGE's Director Carlien Scheele participated in an Interparliamentary Committee Meeting in European Parliament on 1 March focused on understanding energy poverty through a gendered lens.
Dear honourable members of the European Parliament and dear colleagues,
It is with great pleasure and a necessity that I am here today to put an issue up front and center that is gripping the continent.
But first, I’d like you all to think about your daily routine.
You wake up in the morning – some of us naturally – some of us with a little assistance!
You shower, get dressed, have some breakfast and then you’re out the door.
Maybe next you get in your car or take public transport.
Then you’re at work and you get things done over an 8-9 hour period – or perhaps more for some of us.
Then you reverse the process:
You’re back on your commute, you arrive home, you get dinner ready, watch some TV, relax and then go to bed.
Many of us go about our day without really thinking about it – we just do it.
But a lot of people have to think about their every single move. Because their every move comes at a cost.
34 million Europeans are unable to afford to keep their homes warm.
And that’s what we know from 2018.
Imagine now, how many more are suffering now in times of dramatic inflation where sky rocketing energy prices leave many questioning, can I afford to eat and heat at the same time?
Basic human rights are being negotiated.
No one should be left in the cold in the height of winter or over heated in the scorching summer months.
In the fallout of energy poverty, certain households are more vulnerable than others.
But talking about energy poverty on a household level, while very relevant, the term ‘household’ is still too abstract and broad a concept. It obscures important dynamics.
What does energy poverty look like past the front door?
We need some human context.
Who should we be worried about?
Because not all members of a household are equally affected by energy poverty.
Some spend more time at home.
EIGE’s evidence proves that women take on the brunt of unpaid care compared to men – from childcare through to domestic care, meaning they spend more time at home – based on the gendered perception that women are care givers.
What our evidence also indicates, is that in times of crisis, this inequality worsens – alongside many others…
Women tend to have lower incomes due to gender pay and pension gaps.
Energy poverty hits harder for women, because they simply do not earn as much – it’s simple mathematics.
Single mothers, in this instance, are particularly exposed.
A Eurofound survey from last spring focused on the ability to pay energy bills found that close to who half of the respondents who are single mothers anticipate difficulties paying their bills in the next three months.
But this is probably not the full picture.
It’s incredible the lengths one will go to, to pay a bill.
I have heard of single mothers asking their children to stay in libraries to do their homework until closing time because at home, it’s too expensive to keep the lights on.
Remember I mentioned pension gaps earlier.
Well, I have also heard of older women staying on buses longer to keep warm because they cannot afford their heating bills.
So, I have given you a clear enough picture.
Now it’s time to turn to EU level action.
Energy must be a guarantee to all citizens as a basic right.
But equally, given who I have highlighted among the most vulnerable today, we need to adopt a gender lens to solving energy poverty to ensure the most vulnerable can make it through the day knowing that tomorrow is still possible.
There are discussions underway for a Social Climate Fund to provide financial support to vulnerable households but no agreement has been reached.
Lip service doesn’t service anybody.
Political will and active solutions do.
And we have to ensure that a solution isn’t at the expense of an existing problem which is only going to make things worse.
For example, reducing the operating hours of kindergarten as a way to save energy swells the burden of care for women even more.
From a perspective of safety, switching off public lighting at night could put women’s safety in jeopardy.
Solutions are not a one-size-fits-all.
If they were, we wouldn’t be here talking about this issue.
Energy poverty affects different groups of women and men very differently.
So how then, do you develop tailored solutions?
I’ll give you an example with a #3StepsForward approach.
Step 1: We need to eliminate deepening inequalities for a fair and just transition in energy and other areas.
EIGE’s Gender Equality Index makes it clear, where they exist. On that note, our focus for this year’s Index will be on the gender dimension of the Green Deal where we will be publishing evidence related throughout the year.
Step 2: Energy poverty affects women and men, not households.
The EU and Member States must collect gender statistics to appreciate women and men’s different needs so in times of crises, the response is fit for each and every purpose.
Step 3: Resources are your recourse.
EIGE’s gender mainstreaming tools are abundant: from assessments to budgeting to monitoring and evaluation. They are ready-to-use and come with step-by-step guidance.
There is nothing stopping you from starting now.
I look forward to seeing it happen.