Why women and girls gain the most from electricity access

Electricity isn’t just about power stations, pylons and megawatts. Fundamentally it’s about improving peoples’ lives. The evidence shows that it’s women and girls who see the biggest improvements when electricity arrives in their community – and here are 4 reasons why:

1. Childbirth becomes less dangerous

Every day 830 women die from preventable complications related to pregnancy or childbirth, according to the WHO. Lack of electricity is major factor in this as it means being unable to power essential equipment or operate safely after sunset. Clinics without electricity also find it harder to attract skilled staff.

2. Cooking no longer kills

In villages without electricity, cooking is usually done on an open stove, using traditional fuels like wood, charcoal or cakes of dried cow dung. The smoke from these fuels is highly toxic in an enclosed space, and one expert has compared it to smoking 400 cigarettes an hour. Since household chores in developing countries are mostly done by women, they have disproportionate risk of developing lung cancer or heart disease.

3. Girls can get an education

When households get electricity, girls are more likely to be in school. This is because they no longer have to spend long hours fetching fuel for cooking and lighting, or washing everything in a bucket by hand. Evidence from Brazil shows that girls in rural areas with electricity access are 59 percent more likely to complete primary school by the time they’re 18 than those without.

4. Women can earn more

Brazil and South Africa have both rolled out mass-electrification programmes in recent years. Studies from these countries show that in rural areas with electricity women are more likely to be in work and earning more. This isn’t just because lightbulbs and washing machines free up more time. Electricity also makes it easier to start small businesses run out of the family home.

This is why electricity matters: more lives saved, more girls in school and more women able to provide for themselves and their families. Power really does mean empowerment, and this why we have to work much harder to bring it to the 1.2 billion who currently live without it.

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Access to electricity is a human right, and the only way for poorer countries to develop. Add your name if you agree.