Skip To Content


Op-ed: There Is No “Just Energy Transition” Without Gender Justice in Asia

By Arimbi Wahono

Malaysia, Pakistan,

Shared Planet,

The clean energy revolution offers more than a break away from fossil fuels; it presents a critical opportunity to overcome gendered power structures. Currently, energy systems and policies disproportionately disadvantage women. Women—especially those in the Global South—are hardest hit by the lack of reliable and affordable energy, and they are on the front lines of both resisting climate change and being hit by its consequences. Cleaner energy systems will not inherently address these disparities unless concerted efforts are made to prioritise social equity, environmental integrity, and economic justice.

Women’s role in unpaid care work makes them especially vulnerable to the negative impacts of energy systems that rely on fossil fuels or other polluting fuels. In Asia and the Pacific, women spend over four times as much time as men do on unpaid care work. This gap is much wider in some regions; for instance, in Pakistan women spend up to ten times as much time as men do on care work. The negative impacts of this include the adverse health outcomes of being exposed to household air pollution from unclean cooking stoves, the risk of physical injury that comes with being responsible for collecting firewood for domestic work, and having less time available for education, paid work, or other income-generating opportunities.

As we undergo a large-scale shift towards cleaner energy systems, we have the opportunity to actively redress the structural inequalities that women in Asia face under the current energy paradigm

Recognising that the consequences of energy systems are not gender neutral, how can we advance a gender-just energy transition in Asia? We review this in a recent policy brief for the Asia Feminist Coalition. Our vision of a feminist just energy transition is rooted in three key principles: strengthening energy democracy, addressing systemic drivers in gendered labour disparities, and emphasising a rights-based energy framework. These principles should be underpinned by an intersectional approach, so as to acknowledge that the disadvantages faced by women under the prevailing energy systems are intensified by the interplay of factors such as class, caste, race, migration status, and location (for example, urban or rural).

Strengthening energy democracy through small-scale, locally owned, locally appropriate and gender-representative energy systems

The energy transition must be anchored in forms of energy that are small-scale, locally owned, locally appropriate, and gender representative. As well as quickening the pace of the energy transition, such forms of energy would allow communities to be better equipped with the knowledge and skills they need to manage their own energy systems. This sort of energy democracy is especially meaningful for women, who have often been underrepresented in the energy sector, which has led to their needs being marginalised in energy policies and projects.

A study on village electrification schemes in India has demonstrated that decentralised solar home systems and microgrids give women more flexibility in how they use their time by reducing their reliance on kerosene lamps, which must be turned off at night to prevent fires caused by kerosene spills. Another example of a small-scale, gender-responsive energy project is a heatwave-resilient community fridge powered by renewable energy. This technology not only better ensures food security during heatwave-induced droughts but also reduces the time that women and girls need to spend on food preparation, allowing them more time to pursue other opportunities.

Addressing individual and systemic barriers to female participation in the labour force

The energy transition must comprehensively address the systemic barriers that prevent women from working in the energy sector. In countries where women are increasingly obtaining science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) degrees—making them more qualified for roles in the energy sector—they continue to be employed at lower rates than their male counterparts. This is because, even when women pursue employment or education, their continued caring responsibilities limit their opportunities. In Malaysia, for instance, opinion research showed that extending state-mandated maternity leave has led to 41.3% of responding employers favouring a higher male-to-female employment ratio.

A feminist just energy transition would therefore promote a gender-responsive and care-sensitive policy framework to better compensate and redistribute care work performed disproportionately by women (and to address other concerns, including gender-based violence). Such a framework should encompass four elements: a comprehensive care infrastructure (including healthcare, sanitation, and transport); care-related social protection (such as cash transfers); care services (including care for dependants); and employment-related care policies (such as flexible work schedules and career breaks). Special emphasis should be placed on enhancing the availability of care infrastructure and services in rural locations, where the gender gap in caregiving responsibilities is most pronounced. This policy framework must be underpinned by stronger labour rights and more involvement of women in labour unions to better ensure working conditions free from gender-based violence and harassment.

Emphasising a rights-based approach and the gender-based need for ecosystem resilience

Finally, energy systems must be rooted in a rights-based approach. Too often, large-scale renewable energy development comes at the cost of the rights and wellbeing of Indigenous Peoples and local communities. In Malaysia, the construction of the Bakun dam in Borneo displaced communities from ancestrally and socially significant land. Communities that could previously rely on the land for food and water were relocated to areas where they had to turn to money-based systems of exchange. This is especially challenging for women who are unable to access income-generating opportunities once they have resettled.

Simply striving for a just energy transition is not enough without actively incorporating the principles of gender, economic, and social justice. As we undergo a large-scale shift towards cleaner energy systems, we have the opportunity to actively redress the structural inequalities that women in Asia face under the current energy paradigm and, in doing so, make sure women and other marginalised groups are central to the development and implementation of energy policies.

Arimbi Wahono is a senior consultant at Shared Planet, a social and environmental impact consultancy. There, she leads the Just Transitions practice, where her projects underscore the need to address the climate crisis whilst simultaneously tackling deeply inequitable social and economic dynamics. She has led consultancy projects for prominent organisations in this space, including Oxfam International, the Women’s Environment & Development Organization, Hivos, and World Wide Fund for Nature UK (WWF-UK).

Stay Informed and Engaged

Subscribe to the Just Energy Transition in Coal Regions Knowledge Hub Newsletter

Receive updates on just energy transition news, insights, knowledge, and events directly in your inbox.

Subscribe Now