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Energy, Gender and GBV in Emergencies: State of Principles, Knowledge and Practice

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Introduction & Methodology

Energy is essential to survival and a fundamental right, yet it is a routinely neglected need in humanitarian response. There is a growing global consensus that affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all is essential to sustainable development and effective humanitarian response. Sustainable Development Goal 71 and the Global Plan of Action for Sustainable Energy Solutions in Situations of Displacement2 demonstrate the wide global commitment to improving energy access globally. However, much work remains on how to improve energy access in emergencies in an inclusive manner, addressing the specific needs of women and girls and mitigating risks of gender-based violence (GBV). The Energy in Emergencies: Reducing Risks of Gender-based Violence (EEMRG) initiative is a two-year program funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, and implemented by Mercy Corps and the Women’s Refugee Commission (WRC). It aims to improve safety and opportunities for women and girls through access to energy in emergencies by creating training and technical resources on energy access, gender, and GBV risk reduction for humanitarian practitioners working across sectors. Through development of training materials, EEMRG will address GBV risk mitigation and, where possible, prevention, but will not address GBV response.

Current humanitarian programming is missing opportunities to equitably meet the energy needs of affected communities. In contexts where energy access is disrupted by emergencies, women, girls, and children — the usual custodians of household energy — are most impacted. They can find themselves in perilous circumstances when accessing wood fuel from contested sources, or moving among unfamiliar and untrusted community members in the dark to use latrines, visit markets, or collect water. While many groups are affected by inequitable energy access, EEMRG focuses on women and adolescent girls in all their diversity because they are consistently being left behind, face heightened risks of GBV associated with energy access, and their unmet energy needs exacerbate marginalization across all facets of their lives. For instance, energy poverty in displacement settings often means that forests are depleted in the collection of firewood. Women and adolescent girls are typically responsible for firewood collection due to gender norms, expectations, and roles. Women and girls are often exposed to risks of GBV during firewood collection. Tensions between displaced and host communities over forest depletion may lead to intercommunal violence. Often this intercommunal violence is targeted at women and girls who are collecting the wood. Energy access is not an adequate response to GBV; however, it can help minimize the frequency and/or severity of GBV.

EEMRG is underpinned by the principle of “do no harm,” that is, humanitarian actors must ensure that their activities and assistance meet basic needs while not exacerbating risks faced by displaced populations — particularly women and girls — by neglecting their energy needs. But beyond supporting “do no harm” principles, and basic needs, energy access is an enabler of other critical humanitarian, development and equity outcomes. Energy access broadens the tools, social and productive activities, and information available to women and girls, and is a key enabler for recovery, environmental protection, and socio-economic development, and leveling societal power imbalances. For these reasons, humanitarian actors have a responsibility to proactively support women and girls’ energy access.

EEMRG will take an intersectional approach to closely examine how other identity characteristics (such as age, ability, socioeconomic status, displacement status, sexual orientation and gender identity, ethnicity and race, religion, etc.) contribute to discrimination and marginalization and compound issues of gendered energy access. Inclusive energy taken forward by EEMRG is both a commitment and the means to be intentional to ensure that women, girls, boys, and men in all their diversity benefit from energy programming.

This report synthesizes the current state of knowledge and practice around energy access in emergencies and how access to energy intersects with gendered opportunities and GBV risks faced by women and girls living through emergencies. The report incorporates findings from 28 global expert interviews3 and a literature review that examined the growing body of guidance and research on energy access in emergencies.4 For the full methodology, see Annex 1: Methodology. This report is also grounded by two case studies on the state of practice in Jordan and Uganda, which include findings from interviews and conversations with 182 refugees and host community members, 16 market actors, and 20 humanitarian practitioners (see Annexes 4 & 5).

The report lays a foundation for a global humanitarian curriculum on inclusive energy access and reducing the risk of exposure to GBV in emergencies, and culminates with a clear set of capacity-building objectives. It will ensure that existing resources and knowledge are appropriately leveraged, and that EEMRG training materials, guidance, and tools respond to the most important gaps in knowledge and practice.

The audiences for this report are humanitarian generalists and energy and GBV experts, who we hope will confirm and challenge conclusions, ensuring that the report lays an accurate foundation from which we can develop training materials, guidance, and tools around energy and GBV in emergencies for practitioners across sectors.