Image credits:©Aiden Dockery

Bill Gates’ new focus on renewable energy and Melinda Gates’ concern about women’s time poverty and unpaid labor  heralds a new buzz amongst those interested in gender equality…and dare I say – climate change mitigation. Could this attention by the Gates finally bring some much needed momentum for ways to relieve rural women’s drudgery linked to energy access and carbon emissions reductions, to bring triple wins for the environment, women and sustainable development?

This month of March began with an inspiring video and note from Melinda on what she sees as a key constraint to women’s empowerment: time. We could not agree more.

Time constraints are common to women across the globe, and for many, are what keep them from realizing individual growth and economic advancement, while also limiting their contributions to community development. Technologies that supply clean water and renewable energy can be transformational for women’s lives, saving them time that can be used more productively for generating family income, learning new farming skills, and investing in their own health and education.

Melinda talks about unpaid care labor and its disproportional burden on women (4.5 hours/day for women vs. less than 2 hours/day for men, globally). Women who are providers of food, education and healthcare for their families and communities are not compensated for unpaid care labor. Neither are they compensated for the global environmental benefits provided through their labor and knowledge of forest management and sustainable agriculture, maintenance of carbon-reducing technologies, or waste management.

Despite the attention to this by feminist economists for decades, there seem to be few concrete examples of how to compensate women for the social and environmental goods they generate. What is needed is a benefit sharing mechanism to channel funds and revenues to women’s groups – which we believe are key to addressing the big challenges linked to climate change, food security and poverty – so they can independently make decisions about how to allocate resources that best fit their needs. To date, funding and investments have been insignificant:. Only 2% of international aid money is allocated to gender equality.; Less than 1% of budgets allocated by governments to address the Millennium Development Goals was specifically targeted at addressing women’s rights or tackling gender equality. And women’s organizations receive just 9% of this funding, even though they have “historically been closest to transforming the position of women and girls in societies.”. Despite growing recognition of the critical role of women in sustainable development, only 10% of investments in agriculture and environment reach women.

WOCANcreated the W+ Standard to incentivise governments, NGOs and others to invest in technologies and activities that result in women’s time savings and other benefits and that measure the impacts. So far, the W+ has measured time saved through the use of biogas and improved cook stoves that save as much as 2.2 hours/day for women whorely on fuel wood for cooking (amounting to 825 hours per year). Women are keen to use this newly freed up time for productive uses: in Nepal, they want to learn of new farming techniques, help their children with school work, increase their own skills and volunteer in community activities; in Kenya, they wish to earn income to pay school fees for their children; in Honduras, women expressed interest in forming groups to receive skills training for small business development.

The provision of access to technologies that reduce women’s workloads and generate time saving for women is the first critical step for women’s empowerment. This provision must nonetheless be accompanied by initiatives that support the aspirations of women (and measure the results of these actions) to realise the full potential of time savings. The Application of the W+ Standard to community level projects allows for the quantification and monetisation of social goods provided by women, through a process to measure and verify outcomes. These outcomes are expressed in W+ units for Time Saving, Income/Assets, Health, Food Security, Education/Knowledge and Leadership. These units can be purchased by individuals, companies, or funders to contribute to verifiable impacts for women’s empowerment in these areas. Revenues from unit sales pay for costs for project activities and measurement, and are shared with women’s groups that receive a direct donation.

Accountability and reporting are of course key: Holding companies and funders accountable – either through certification systems that verify investments in gender equality or through other mechanisms that encourage data collection reporting on how gender equality has been integrated into business models – will be critical if the Sustainable Development Goals related to gender equality are to be met.

In the transition towards sustainable economies and societies, WOCAN and South Pole Group have recognised the necessity of developing a results-based means to evaluate initiatives for empowering women. The W+ model is a clear step in this direction. We are keen to see how funders like the Gates - as well as corporations, investors and individuals - now take action to provide critical resources for empowering women and help tear down the existing barriers to sustainable development.