A View from the North: Gender and Energy Poverty in the European Union

Mariëlle Henriëtte Feenstra*, Joy Sheila Clancy

*Corresponding author for this work

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Gender and energy in the North is an under-researched area. Most of the work to date has focused on making the case that a gender dimension in energy exists – with a significant emphasis on promoting women working in the sector. This chapter aims to extend our understanding of gender in energy focusing on energy poverty, also an issue not widely recognised as existing within the Global North. However, it is estimated that more than 54 million people in Europe have difficulty paying their energy bills or have limited access to high quality energy because of low incomes. Even less well recognised is the fact that there is a gender dimension to this issue. Due to their lower average income, women are at a greater risk of energy poverty than men.

As part of a growing recognition of this problem, in December 2016, the European Parliament (EP) adopted a resolution on access to energy which called for the EU to include a gender dimension in all its energy policies. The question is: to what extent is gender already taken into account in EU energy law and policy? And where are the gaps in the normative frameworks at the EU and Member-State level? This chapter analyses existing EU energy poverty law and policy related through a gender lens. The methodology used is a mix of literature review, desk review of policy documents (both on EU and national level) combined with mapping and a case study approach of gender and energy poverty in seven EU Member States (Bulgaria, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and the UK). The findings are combined with the insights from interviews with key informants conducted in 2017-2018.

This chapter will start with insights into energy poverty as experienced by women and men, mediated by social characteristics, within the European Union. One of the challenges of exploring the gender dimension of energy poverty in the EU, is that there is no agreed definition of energy poverty. Furthermore, deriving such a definition is hampered by the limited data available which tend to be qualitative. The chapter summarizes definitions of energy poverty that have been developed by both researchers and public institutions and proposes a metric for assessing the gender dimension of energy poverty. We survey the normative framework in seven Member States with respect to gender and energy services. We examine how existing EU legislation is interpreted and implemented at the national level. Also, any initiatives in the case study countries which provide positive examples of addressing issues related to gender and energy poverty are identified. In this context, the study explores the recommendation of a definition of energy poverty which reflects the context across member states but is suitable for cross-comparison, to define indicators of energy poverty to enable tracking of progress and support measures.

We argue that a more gender-aware energy policy is needed to address energy poverty. A starting point for the process of creating a more gender-aware energy policy is raising awareness of the issues. Therefore the next section uses the conceptual map of the drivers, causes and effects of energy poverty developed by Trinomics (2016) to explore these issue and to make recommendations on how energy poverty can be addressed with gender equitable outcomes. Within this conceptual framework, the gender gaps are identified. There are gender dimensions to the drivers, factors and outcomes of energy. Gender and energy poverty in the EU member states, is analysed from three interlinked perspectives:

economic: e.g. Women with low incomes are disproportionately found as heads of households either as single parent families or, due to their greater longevity than men, living alone at pensionable age
biological/physiological: e.g. Age is a significant factor in dealing with heat and cold stress, with young children and older people being particularly vulnerable. Women are also considered to be more sensitive to ambient temperature than men.
socio-cultural: women’s energy needs and consumption patterns differ compare to men but also among women, factors like marital status and employment influence energy consumption.

The chapter concludes with recommendations for the EU and member states on the way forward to addressing gender and energy poverty.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEngendering the Energy Transition
EditorsJoy Clancy, Gül Özerol, Nathabiseng Mohlakoana, Mariëlle Feenstra, Lillian Sol Cueva
Place of PublicationCham, Switzerland
Number of pages25
ISBN (Electronic)978-3-030-43513-4
ISBN (Print)978-3-030-43512-7
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Gender
  • North
  • EU
  • Energy poverty
  • Energy policy
  • n/a OA procedure


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