Imagine life without electricity or modern fuels – no light at night, only fuelwood to cook with.
Imagine life as a woman without electricity or modern fuels – driven by culture and necessity to spend your days gathering fuel and water and living in a smoky environment that is dangerous to your family and your health.
Now imagine life as a girl without electricity or modern fuels – consigned to a future of drudgery and danger, prevented by the harsh realities of life from pursuing an education or a brighter future.
What does access to energy have to do with a girl’s life? Everything.
Clean and affordable modern energy can revolutionize girls’ lives – improving their health, saving them time, allowing them an education, decreasing their vulnerability to violence, and empowering them to capitalize on other opportunities.
There are more than 1.2 billion adolescents aged 10 to 19 in the world today, half of whom are adolescent girls, making this the largest youth generation in history. We know that investing in an educated, healthy, skilled, and empowered girl means that she will have the tools to reinvest back into her family, community, and our world.
Yet adolescent girls are still disproportionally affected by the absence of modern energy. Today, approximately 800 million children do not have access to reliable lighting, mostly relying instead on kerosene lamps – a 19th century technology that is dim, pollutes, and when tipped over can burn users and set homes on fire. Although lighting is critical to education, parents often struggle to pay for even this sub-par solution, given the high cost of kerosene.
Girls make up more than half of the 140 million children and adolescents who are out of school (67 million children and 71 million adolescents). Household gender divisions often condemn girls to be the main procurers of energy, collecting firewood for cooking for 20 hours or more per week – which not only takes away from their time in school, but exposes them to sexual violence.
For girls in developing countries, going to school is more than just an opportunity to be educated – it can mean they avoid long work hours, stay healthy, and gain access to economic options that otherwise would not be possible. Access to sustainable electricity is a prerequisite, not a result, of the education and health steps needed to improve the status of girls worldwide.
Most medical procedures can wait until morning – except for childbirth. And most women (typically adolescent girls themselves) in agricultural settings finish their daily chores before going to a medical clinic in the evening. Medical complications from pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death among girls ages 15 to 19 worldwide. Maternal and child mortality can be reduced by 70% with the provision of even minimal lighting and medical device operating services.
Off-grid renewable energy solutions offer an affordable way to boost the well-being of girls. Small-scale renewable energy solutions can help girls study safely at night and avoid harm outside of the home, and can provide light for doctors and midwives to perform deliveries at night, saving the lives of young mothers and their babies. Clean fuels and cookstoves can reduce the dangers of smoke inhalation, decreasing the incidence of bronchitis and other respiratory infections and eye problems.
Reaching universal access to modern energy services by 2030 is one of the three interconnected objectives of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s initiative on Sustainable Energy for All – along with doubling the rate of energy efficiency and the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix. Let us work together to improve the future for all girls – let’s take action to light up their lives.