Energy, Gender and Development - What are the Linkages? Where is the Evidence?

Discussion Paper
1 January 2011

The objective of the report is to review the literature on the links between energy access, welfare, and gender in order to provide evidence on where gender considerations in the energy sector matter and how they might be addressed. Prepared as a background document for the 2012 World Development Report on Gender Equality and Development, as well as a part of the Social Development Department’s ongoing work on gender and infrastructure, the report describes and evaluates the evidence on the links between gender and energy focusing on the following areas: increased access to woodfuel through planting of trees and forest management; improved cooking technologies; and access to electricity and motive energy.

The report is intended to complement ongoing efforts to formulate a gender business plan for the Sustainable Development Network of the World Bank. It focuses on reviewing the academic evidence and does not aim to offer specific operational recommendations which are better left for the gender business plan and other documents that follow up on the 2012 World Development Report.

Focusing on the academic peer-reviewed literature, fairly inclusive screening criteria are applied when selecting the evidence to consider. Thus, much of this review is based on quantitative studies with samples that are relatively small, yet sufficient to support multivariate regressions to control for confounding effects. Thus, we include studies even if they were not experimental or quasi-experimental; used cross-section measures instead of a before and after; and relied on proxy indicators of welfare outcomes.

The main finding of this review is that energy interventions can have significant gender benefits which can be realized via careful design and targeting of interventions based on a context-specific understanding of energy scarcity and household decision-making. The Bank may also want to consider a program of rigorous impact evaluations and participatory monitoring of household energy projects.

While Sub-Saharan Africa has particularly low electrification rates, rural electrification is a policy goal in many countries and 68 developing countries have set explicit targets for electricity access. In most countries, electricity is not used for cooking, and therefore does not directly substitute for polluting and time-consuming traditional cooking technologies and fuel sources. Thus, there are very significant potential health gains, particular for women and children, from effective dissemination of improved cookstoves or other modern energy technology for cooking in rural South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, and of less polluting cooking and heating technology in China.

The impact of interventions designed to promote energy access depends on household decision-making, and, in particular, how women’s preferences, opportunity cost of time, and welfare are reflected in those decisions. Studies show that both women and men are involved in fuelwood collection but to varying degrees, with women often doing most of the collection labor. Studies also show that the labor allocation between men and women, and between sources of fuel, is responsive to relative shadow wages as well as to cultural norms. Realizing the full potential of these interventions therefore requires that project design is based on a context-specific understanding of energy scarcity and how household energy decisions are made.

There are several reasons to expect that the determinants and rates of adoption of new cooking technology and electricity may be different for female-headed vs. male-headed households: in some places, female-headed households are more likely to be poor and thus less able to afford the up-front cost of new stoves or electricity connections. And, in many places, the legal and cultural constraints on women may also place households that they head at a disadvantage, limiting their opportunities even conditional on household income. Finally, one would expect decisions by female heads of households to more closely reflect women’s preferences, welfare, and opportunity cost of time. All of this raises the possibility that female-headed households may be more responsive to interventions to improve access to new cooking technology and electricity. In the Lao PDR Rural Electrification Project, for example, it was found that female headed households made up 43% of poor households, who would not be able to afford fees for connecting to the electricity grid. This circumstance led to a pilot component, known as Power to the Poor, which set up a revolving loan fund to enable the poor to finance the upfront connection costs. However, it is also possible that the legal, cultural, or institutional constraints faced by women may adversely affect the ability of female-headed households to switch fuels, adopt technology, or establish an electricity connection regardless of income.

Link to full report (pdf):


Gunnar Köhlin
Erin O. Sills
Subhrendu K. Pattanayak
Christopher WilfongThe


EfD Authors
Sustainable Development Goals
Publication reference
Köhlin, Gunnar, Erin O. Sills, Subhrendu K. Pattanayak, Christopher Wilfong, August 2011, "Energy, Gender and Development - What are the Linkages? Where is the Evidence?" The World Bank Social Development Working Papers - Paper No. 125, A b

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Publication | 27 September 2011