Women, energy, and economic prosperity: The linkage between sustainability and equality

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Globally, women play a powerful role in sustainability.  Across countries, organizations and communities, women make a substantial, positive contribution to growth and innovation, while also impacting environmental and social crises. This still-emerging and significant influence is one reason the United Nations prioritizes gender equality and women’s empowerment as one of its 17 interrelated Sustainable Development Goals.

Equality through sustainable development benefits all

Although women average 40% of the world’s labor force, women continue to lag in promotional opportunities, wages, and land ownership.  They are inhibited in their pursuit of education and employment by lack of access to social and natural resources.

Empowering women has a positive impact on alleviating economic, environmental, and social challenges. Frequently, they are the resource managers for their communities, accountable for raising crops and livestock, for carrying water, and for responding to natural disasters. Providing access to education and work for women increases economic development and prosperity.

Advancing these opportunities for young women in communities at the bottom of the energy pyramid is especially critical. This interplay between women’s rights and energy access is making the world more sustainable while growing the global economy.

Growth through education

According to the United Nations, 103 million youth worldwide lack basic literacy skills, and more than 60 per cent of them are women. Yet, we know that girls’ education plays a dramatic role in mitigating global warming, so much so that schooling for girls is considered cost-competitive when compared against all other carbon emissions-reducing solutions.

The favorable results for educated girls and their communities are significant. Educated girls are empowered to improve their quality of life. They receive higher wages and demonstrate greater upward mobility, which builds a foundation for strong economies in developing nations. They, their children, and their communities have better health outcomes than uneducated girls and demonstrate greater long-term resiliency.

The education gap is often rooted in a lack of access to energy, as was the case in Lagos, Nigeria. Schneider Electric recently worked in partnership with Microsoft to help communities that depended on diesel generators to power schools and healthcare clinics to switch to cleaner technologies. This energy transition in Lagos also gives families in these communities, including women and girls, more flexible access to schools and clinics.

Sometimes improving energy access for better education can be simpler. Solar-powered LED lights, for example also significantly improve quality of life for women and girls, who can use the lights to do homework and continue productive activities that benefit their families and communities after sundown.

Growth through innovation

Cleantech that makes daily tasks more efficient and cleaner for the environment drives other changes for women. Natural gas-fired and solar-powered cookstoves and water pumps, for example, help to mitigate laborious and time-consuming domestic tasks, allowing girls and women to pursue educational and/or economic opportunities.  They also improve health outcomes and reduce the deforestation and carbon emissions affiliated with inefficient technologies.

Renewable solar power plays an important role in other ways. In India, small scale mini-grids are being rapidly deployed, in part because solar results in a cheaper, more stable power supply.  These smaller, easy-to-implement solar projects are electrifying rural areas of a country where more than 200 million people still lack access to power. Electrification is stimulating new economic opportunities, which means that it is easier for women and girls to find steady and well-paying work, enabling further positive outcomes for these women and their families, including better access to food, healthcare, and transportation.

Growth through entrepreneurship

Environmental and energy concerns also provide women with entrepreneurial opportunities.  For instance, women make up almost half of the agricultural labor force and produce 60-80% of all food crops in developing countries.  Empowering and educating them to be effective landowners and farmers can improve crop yields beyond current levels. This can reduce the carbon emissions that result from clear cutting forests for arable land.  Female smallholders can also actively manage soils and vegetation, leading to additional carbon drawdown.

At Schneider Electric, we train women in electricity and energy management all over the world, enabling them to break through barriers and achieve professional goals. Together with the Schneider Electric Foundation, our women’s entrepreneurship program in Brazil, for example, helps women begin their own energy businesses. And in Egypt, we integrate women into the workplace through the Female Technician Hiring Program.

Our commitment to equality and inclusion

The global challenges and opportunities that we all face demand innovation and remedy. Women and girls are essential to these global economic and energy solutions.

At Schneider Electric, we are committed to inclusion and gender equality across our business. We observe gender equality principles in talent management by recruiting women into leadership roles; in salary practices through a rigorous pay equity review process; in our supply chain by engaging with vendors that work to advance gender equality themselves; internally through our global paid family leave policy and women’s initiatives; and through our ongoing involvement with the HeForShe movement, which more than 40,000 Schneider Electric employees have joined to date.

By joining us this and working for equality, we can all help women and girls make a positive impact on the planet.

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