UN Women - United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women

Access to Clean Energy Critical for Rural Women

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Date: 12 March 2012

Opening statement delivered by the Executive Director of UN Women Michelle Bachelet at the Rural Women, Climate Change and Access to Energy
CSW Side Event, Monday 5 March 2012
[Check against delivery.]

Distinguished members of the Troika-plus of Women Leaders on Gender and Climate Change,

Representatives of rural women from all over the world,

Fellow participants in this 56th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women,

It is my great pleasure to welcome you to this side event on Rural Women, Climate Change and Access to Energy.

It is now widely recognised that the empowerment of women is fundamental to sustainable development; that rural women are key agents of change; and that their leadership and participation are needed to shape effective responses to development challenges.

Among the many issues on which women's voices should be strong, is energy. Access to modern, clean and renewable energy for rural women is a critical issue. We know that many of the 1.6 billion people living without reliable sources of energy, and the 2.7 billion people relying on open fires and traditional stoves for cooking and heating are rural women.

This places a significant burden on rural women and girls, negatively impacting their health, education and livelihood opportunities. Access to, and control over, clean energy sources are therefore central to unleashing the potential of rural women. And with 2012 designated as the UN Year of Sustainable Energy for All, this conversation could not be more timely.

As you know there are multiple co-benefits to expanding sustainable energy access, including in the empowerment, education, literacy, nutrition and health of women, which in turn will have significant beneficial consequences for their families and communities. In West Africa, for example, we have seen some 2,000 rural villages benefit from locally generated energy services; which helped reduce women's daily work by two to four hours; increased women's incomes; improved education and school enrolment; and increased adult literacy.

We are also increasingly seeing responses to the challenge of climate change that are accelerating the development and expansion of clean energy sources. This provides a clear opening for women to adopt roles as producers, managers, promoters and sellers of modern sustainable energy. An opportunity therefore exists to collectively advance sustainable development, rural women's empowerment and climate justice by increasing access to sustainable energy where it is needed most.

As primary users of household energy for cooking and heating, rural women are best placed to determine what their energy needs are and how they can best be addressed. It is for this reason we have assembled you here today; to hear your voices and to understand your priorities around expanding access to modern and sustainable energy.