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Hundreds of millions of women and girls in developing countries are plagued by energy poverty, further intensified by gender inequality. Simple activities like obtaining fuel are often  labor-intensive, time consuming and jeopardize health and safety. From higher levels of indoor pollution from inefficient fuels to the increased threat of violence due to a lack of lighting at night, women’s experience of energy poverty is acute; 7 out of 10 people living on $1 a day are female. Yet women are also more likely to be the primary energy managers in their communities.

Distributed renewable solutions not only benefit women and girls through safer lighting, more study hours and more time, but can provide a way to empower women as leaders in the distributed renewables sector.

Solar Sister, a network of energy solutions distributors, shows how female entrepreneurs can play a role at the forefront of the clean energy revolution, with the company growing from two to 1,250 entrepreneurs in just five years. While in Zanzibar, after returning from the Barefoot College in India, trained “solar mamas” began work as engineers installing and maintaining solar home systems enabling them to create additional income of $60 a month. Energia and GVEP meanwhile are working with TOTAL on targeted programs to increase female entrepreneurship through sales of solar lanterns. Women also hold key roles at the very top of the sector, with Rachel Kyte recently appointed as CEO of the Sustainable Energy for All, Cathy Zoi as CEO of SunEdison’s rural electric utility company, Frontier Power, and Deepali Khanna heading the Rockefeller Foundation’s Smart Power for Rural Development Programme in India.

Women are vital stakeholders as as we transition into a more sustainable and equitable world. UN Women and UNDP recently released a report on ‘Removing barriers to women entrepreneurs’ engagement in decentralized sustainable energy solutions for the poor’. Avoiding gender-blind policies and programmes will be critical for ensuring that the lives of women are not only improved by the sector, but that women’s huge potential to drive the sector forward is fully realized.