South Asian Women’s Rights to Sustainable Energy

Blog by Reni Axelrod, Senior Associate

Sustainable energy is “reliable, affordable, and accessible [energy] that meets the economic, social, and environmental needs [while ensuring] . . .  equitable distribution.”[1] It ensures the fulfillment of human rights such as food, housing, medical, and social services, promoting a dignified standard of living.[2] Access to sustainable energy is crucial for addressing gender inequities on women[3] exacerbated by the climate crisis.[4]

Climate-induced force migration[5] disproportionately affects South Asian women living in coastal areas impacted by sea level rise,[6] preventing them from realizing these human rights.[7] In Bangladesh, when male communities out migrate, women shoulder increased responsibilities, including fuel collection[8] and processing.[9] Sustainable energy can improve women’s productivity,[10] yet women are marginalized in energy agendas.[11]

Energy poverty adversely impacts women’s health. Cook with stoves produce pollutants exposing women and their children[12] to respiratory diseases.[13] Sustainable energy can reduce public health impacts of household air pollution.[14]

A rights-centered[15] approach to sustainable energy focusing on affordability, availability, accessibility, women’s participation, and quality promotes gender equality.[16], [17]

Affordability: Diverse funding[18] for sustainable energy funding in South Asia[19] can support women entrepreneurs,[20] who can be trained to operate, maintain, and sell sustainable energy products to expand their economic opportunities.[21]

Availability: Sustainable energy agendas should support various uses.[22] Solar cooking can ensure people have access to cook three meals a day.[23] Passive solar architecture can power homes for lighting, heating, and emergency facilities.[24]

Accessibility: Developing grid infrastructure ensures capacity to support sustainable energy systems,[25] especially during extreme weather events where energy systems can operate autonomously.[26]

Participation: Women’s participation in designing energy systems reduces power imbalances,[27] provide access to business opportunities, and expand women’s leadership in responding to climate change response.[28]

Quality: Reliable sustainable energy systems[29],[30] should be coupled with capacity development, including monitoring, evaluation, data collection, and training.[31]

The right to sustainable energy[32] is crucial for empowering South Asian women disproportionately affected by climate displacement, ensuring they can lead dignified lives.[33]

[1] Brijesh Mainali, et al. Assessing rural energy in developing countries 19 Energy for Sustainable Dev. 15, 15 (Feb. 21, 2014).

[2] G.A. Res. 217A, at art. 25(1) (Dec. 10, 1948).

[3] Explainer: How gender inequality and climate change are interconnected, U.N. Women (Feb. 28, 2022),

[4] Secretary-General’s remarks at Fourth World Future Energy Summit, United Nations (Jan. 17, 2011),

[5] Kanta Kumari Rigaud, et al. Groundswell: Preparing for Internal Climate Migration, World Bank Group i, viii (2018), (defining forced migration where coercion exists arising from natural or man-made causes, such as environmental disasters, and some element of agency exists).

[6] U.N. High Comm’r for Refugees, Strategic Framework for Climate Action 1, 5 The UN Refugee Agency [hereinafter UNHCR], (last accessed Oct. 1, 2023).

[7] Anusree Ghosh & Tapas Ranjan Chakraborty, Gender Perspectives of Energy, Disaster, Management and Climate Actions in Rural Bangladesh 1A Int. Energy J. 133, 135 (2021).

[8] Id. at 135 (referring to Table 1 on impacts of extreme events on women’s daily life).

[9] U.N. Env’t Programme, Powering Equality: Women’s entrepreneurship transforming Asia’s energy sector 1, 18 [hereinafter UNEP Powering Equality] (Sept. 9, 2020),

[10] U.N. Env’t Programme, Gender-Responsive Renewable Energy Programs: A Review of Existing Initiatives on Women’s Leadership in Renewable Energy 1, 11 [hereinafter UNEP Gender Responsive] (2022),

[11] Id. at 4; UNEP Powering Equality, supra note 9, at 19-20 (discussing the economic potential of women).

[12] UNEP Powering Equality, supra note 9, at 21.

[13] Sakib Bin Amin & Saanjaana Rahman, Energy Sources in Bangladesh Trends and Contemporary Issues 89 (2019).

[14] UNEP Powering Equality, supra note 9, at 21.

[15] What are human rights? United Nations, (last accessed Sept. 4, 2023).

[16] Minoru Takada, et al., Accelerating the Energy Transformation, in Fulfilling the Sustainable Development Goals 257, 257 (Narinder Kakar, ed., Vesselin Popovski, ed. & Nicholas A. Robinson, ed., 2022).

[17] Comm. on Econ., Soc., and Cultural Rts., CESCR General Comment No. 14: The Right to the Highest Attainable Standard of Health (Art. 12), ¶ 12(a-d), Twenty-Second Session, U.N. Doc. E/C.12/2000/4 (Aug. 11, 2000).

[18] UNEP Gender Responsive, supra note 10, at 15-18 (depicting diversity funding mechanisms in Table 2).

[19] Takada, supra note 16, at 272.

[20] UNEP Gender Responsive, supra note 10, at 26.

[21] Id.

[22] Ottmar Edenhofer et al., Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation: Special Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change IPCC 1, 181-82 (2011), (referring to Table 1.3 on different types of renewable energy technologies).

[23] UNHCR, supra note 6, at 11.

[24] Id.; Edenhofer, supra note 22, at 181 (referring to Table 1.3 indicating uses of direct solar energy).

[25] Friends of Earth International, Renewable Energy and Land Use: Barriers to Just Transition in the Global South 1, 6 (Feb. 28, 2023) [hereinafter FOEI], (discussing outdated grid infrastructure in Bangladesh where solar systems exceed grid capacity).

[26] Edenhofer, supra note 22, at 621.

[27] UNEP Powering Equality, supra note 9, at 20.

[28] Id..

[29] FOEI, supra note 25, at 8.

[30] Energizing health: accelerating electricity access in health-care facilities WHO, 24, 73 (2023),

[31] Edenhofer, supra note 22, at 928 (discussing capacity development in Nepal).

[32] FOEI, supra note 25, at 8.

[33] Id.

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