Energy poverty - currently experienced by between 30 and 60 million of Europeans - refers to the situation when households are unable to access enough energy to ensure dignified living conditions at an affordable price. Although the direct and indirect drivers and causes are multiple, poor insulation of buildings, high energy bills and low incomes are the three main factors leading to it. Energy poverty is not a gender-neutral phenomenon and is more common among women, especially single mothers and the elderly. However, the clear lack of sex-disaggregated data represents an obstacle to the design and implementation of effective policies: indeed, a vicious circle emerges: no data, no visibility, no interest, no action, no accountability.
In order to investigate the link between gender and energy poverty, the European institutional framework – presented by Kata Tüttő and Jaimie Just - was complemented by the sharing of best practices across the EU, specifically two representatives of the EmpowerMed project , which works to include gender and health in the discussion on energy poverty and to empower women to take action against energy poverty across the Mediterranean area.
Kata Tüttő, Mayor of Budapest, Chair of the ENVE Committee in the Committee of the Regions, underlined the key and active role that local leaders and citizens are called to play in these times of great change. Energy poverty as a gendered-issue is a symptom of deeply-rooted causes, the only possible and sustainable way through it is to assume a gender lens in money management and decision-making processes.
Jaimie Just, CEMR Adviser on equality & diversity, highlighted gendered differences in terms of access to resources, energy management in the household and consumer behaviours. Indeed, all over the world, women experience lower employment rates and unequal pay, they spend more time than men engaging in unpaid household and care tasks, and consequently they are more dependent on heating and indoor air quality. In this regard, the European Charter for Equality of Women and Men in Local life addresses major areas where LRGs have the competences and power to effectively tackle those root causes that lead, among other symptoms, to energy poverty.
The two representatives of national project partners of EmpowerMed, Mònica Guiteras Blaya from the Catalan Association of Engineering Without Borders (ESF) and Katharina Habersbrunner from the German section of Women Engage for a Common Future (WECF), stressed the need of a binding approach and a gender lens within EU policies and institutions as well as in projects dealing with the topic. They presented some local initiatives, such as the collective assemblies: mainly attended and participated in by women, they represent an example to take energy poverty out of private spaces, and are a tool of empowerment for women and vulnerable people, as well as a safe place where to build knowledge and exchange experience. Finally, they underlined how renewable energy represents a huge opportunity for women: they must be included in the energy sector decision-making processes, be seen as true actors of change, and be supported by institutions. Including women would mean making better decisions and designing more effective policies in the energy sector, ensuring gender-responsiveness and sensitivity.
The collective assemblies, which are mainly attended and participated in by women, represent an example to take energy poverty out of private spaces, and are a tool of empowerment for women and vulnerable people, as well as a safe place where to build knowledge and exchange experience.