Hidden Hours: Feminist Solutions to Energy, Water and Menstrual Poverty – CSW68

It is often said that everybody has the same number of hours in a day, but is that really the case?

Time is one of our most precious resources. But in our patriarchal societies, the time of women and girls – in all their diversity – is not valued equally, as they are disproportionately tasked with time consuming care responsibilities.. This includes, for example, gendered tasks such as collecting firewood or water, which for the large majority is done by women and girls, preventing them from enjoying education or pursuing paid employment. These hours of unpaid work often remain hidden, yet we know they will further increase given the exacerbating effects of climate change.

Between 10 and 22 March, the world’s governments met at the United Nations for the largest gathering on women’s empowerment and gender equality, with this year’s priority theme centering the topic of poverty. Along the sidelines of the Commission on the Status of Women in New York, we organised a parallel event together with the Women’s Major Group, titled “Hidden Hours”. We aimed to explore the topic of time poverty, by looking at specific case studies on the gendered dimensions of energy, water and menstrual poverty. Guided by civil society experts and feminist leaders from Nigeria, Uganda and Fiji. Working groups exchanged their experiences and co-created (policy) recommendations on how to strengthen gender-transformative initiatives to tackle energy, water and menstrual poverty.

Hira Amjad (Founder and Executive Director DASTAK Foundation)

The feminization of poverty 

Opening the session was Hira Amjad, Founder and Director of DASTAK Foundation from Pakistan. Hira is a young feminist leader and winner of the 2023 Gender Just Climate Solutions award in the Transformative Solutions category. Hira pondered the title of the event “Hidden hours” in her opening words, describing it as “a perfect term to highlight how a lot of work that young girls and women put into everyday tasks is just invisible, hidden and barely ever recognised”.

“The patriarchal foundation of the distribution of gender roles is the major cause of gender inequality and the feminization of poverty”, Hira argued. “While the burden of time poverty weighs heavily over them, women who spend all their time performing traditional gendered tasks are often considered as ‘not working’. These inequalities are exacerbated particularly during natural disasters and conflicts”, something which Hira also noticed in her own work in Pakistan in the aftermath of the devastating floods.

Left to right: Nalini Singh (Executive Director of Fiji’s Women’s Rights Movement), Priscilla Achakpa (Founder and Global Director of Women Environmental Programme), Agnes Mirembe (Executive Director with Action for Rural Women’s Empowerment)

Energy, Water and Menstrual Poverty – intrinsically linked

In a short pitch, three women leaders laid out the context in their respective countries and shared their organisations’ work on tackling energy, water and menstrual poverty.

Agnes Mirembe, Executive Director with Action for Rural Women’s Empowerment, shared how in Uganda, over 90% of people continue to depend on firewood and charcoal for their energy. This is at a huge detriment to the environment, the climate and people’s health. The task of firewood collection falls largely on women and girls, which becomes a day task. They search for firewood across large distances takes around 1.5 hours, in addition to which women spend around 4 hours preparing meals on traditional stoves. ARUWE, in partnership with WECF, has created women-led energy cooperatives thus decentralizing energy production and supply for rural women, ensuring affordability and sustainability. Now, women use 30 minutes to cook with the improved solutions ARUWE provides, and at the same time have a safer and healthier energy supply.

Water is life”, was the first sentence with which Dr. Priscilla Achakpa, Founder and Global Director of Women Environmental Programme based in Nigeria, opened her pitch. Similar to the issue of firewood gathering in Uganda, women and girls spend an incredible amount of time and efforts in Nigeria to get water. Water is used for cooking, cleaning, washing and for menstrual health, not only in homes, but also at schools and workplaces. And if water sources are polluted, women are impacted. Priscilla Achapka recalled how WEP Nigeria came to exist, as a result of severe pollution of water by industry in Kaduna state, which affected the health and skins of women in the area, hence why Priscilla stressed that the issue of water pollution needs to be a part of the conversation. Unfortunately, the formal management of water is largely out of women’s hands as it is a male-dominated area. .

Nalini Singh, Executive Director of Fiji’s Women’s Rights Movement, found the term menstrual health expert with which she was introduced, ironic given that those present in the room, all women, were, according to her, all experienced experts on the topic of menstruation. The first thing that we need to do for that reason, is talk about it and break the taboo around menstruation. Menstrual poverty is a reality for many menstruators in Fiji, especially for adolescents in rural areas. Thanks to advocacy by feminists, the government of Fiji has introduced free, menstrual, products for school girls, by providing them with vouchers to use when shopping. However, in a patriarchal society, where menstruation is a taboo, girls often do not dare to shop for menstrual products, and in families where the men are in charge of the purchases, too often the vouchers remain unused, and girls continue to miss out on school when they have their period.

Three group discussions in conversation on “how do we tackle … poverty”

Different regions, similar struggles, multi-applicable solutions

The speakers then joined in roundtable discussions with the participants, where each shared their experiences with energy, water and menstrual poverty and co-created recommendations on how to support feminist initiatives to take back these hidden hours for women and girls. What became abundantly clear is that whilst the specifics regarding energy, water or menstrual poverty differ per country, they are universal issues for women and girls in all their diversity, and intersect in many ways.

Core recommendations

Participants proposed recommendations that were directly relevant to the ongoing negotiations on the main themes of the 68 session of the UN Commission on the Status of women.  

  • Recognize and value unpaid care work by women, by providing public services that relieve women from their unpaid and invisible work, such as by ensuring provision of safe water and energy to homes and schools (which is a commitment already made by all governments under Sustainable Development Goal 5, target 4).
  • Promote the necessary shift of norms and gender roles towards an equal division of (care) tasks within households, and recognize and fund the contribution of feminist organizations towards changing gender stereotypes and taboos.
  • Break taboos around menstruation through campaigns and education on menstrual health, and ensure access to menstrual products that are safe affordable, and cover a range of choices, including through free distribution at schools, and the abolishment of value-added taxes on menstrual products.
  • Ensure women leadership in governance of water and energy supply and management
  • Invest in disaggregated data to understand the differentiated needs of women, girls and gender diverse groups
  • Build the capacity of women and girls in all their diversity in the fields of energy production, water management and the production of sustainable menstrual health products, including in schools and community initiatives.
  • Make period products, clean water and clean energy accessible to all, including for people with disabilities, including through zero-value-added-tax and creating incentives for women-led cooperatives and period-product entrepreneurs.
  • Global tax reform to ensure multinationals pay their taxes in global South countries, reduce tax burdens so as to create the needed fiscal space to allow investments in public services for water, energy and menstrual health, that reduce women’s unpaid care work.


We were honored to be joined by two special guests during the session, who were invited to reflect on the discussions they joined and share perspectives from their respective areas of work.

Ana Alonso, Human Rights and Gender Equality Counselor of the Permanent Mission of Spain to the UN, shared her insights into how Spain is tackling menstrual poverty. Measures include for example lowering the VAT tax on menstrual products but also policies around dealing with menstruation in the workplace. Not everybody has the same type of menstruation experience, hence why Spain has decided to offer paid and flexible sick leave to those experiencing menstruation discomfort.

Carla Kraft, Sustainable Development Policy Specialist under the Economic Empowerment Section at UN Women, shared an important framework not to be missed in this discussion: human rights, in particular the recognized human right to safe water and sanitation. “It is a powerful tool to break down the silos between development and human rights”, Carla shared. Also crucial linkages with climate change, conflict and debt relief should be central in our conversations on tackling time poverty. Besides data, we need stories as shared here today to use in our advocacy.

Left to right: Sascha Gabizon (WECF Executive Director), Hira Amjad (Founder and Executive Director DASTAK Foundation), Rebecca Heuvelmans (WECF Advocacy and Campaigning Officer/Moderator)

Time is ticking to end time poverty

As Hira stressed at the beginning of the event, “amidst these pressing challenges, let’s start by pondering upon this question: when will we truly start to recognize and value women’s time as their own?” Because besides the “productive” hours women and girls lose through time poverty, the true loss is the hours taken away from their right to take care of themselves. Let’s invest in feminist solutions to tackle time poverty once and for all.