The Value of Engaging Women in the Energy Provisioning Process – Study

This case study exhibits how engaging women in the energy provisioning process creates an empowerment opportunity through enterprise and skill development, and disintegrates gender stereotypical roles to enable positive societal transformations.

Correlations between lack of access to energy and gender inequality 
Women are a key, though underutilized, resource in the energy service delivery process. Primarily viewed only as energy consumers, in the majority of affected regions it is the women that experience energy poverty much more severely than men. There are clear correlations between poverty, the lack of access to energy, and gender inequality as it is well known that men and women in developing countries have differing roles and responsibilities, which is reflected in their energy needs and priorities. In most BoP communities across the world, the entire burden of providing for a family’s energy needs falls on women. In the absence of modern sources of energy for lighting and cooking, women spend nearly 40 hours a month collecting fuel wood, which ironically, when used to cook over open fires causes her and her family to develop severe respiratory and lung diseases. On an average, women endure 14-hour long work days to fulfill just the basic needs of their families, that is, fetching water (which requires them to walk several miles every day) and providing food. With no time, energy or opportunity to pursue any developmental or livelihood activities, women remain confined to their homes, making it nearly impossible to break free from drudgery and poverty. Forced into lives of dependency and subordination, as non-earning members, they end up having limited or no decision-making powers and are allowed lesser and lesser access to education, credit, land, and power.

Women: more than just recipients
The energy sector has largely been viewed and approached as a capital-intensive, large-scale, and commercial space where energy service delivery followed a bullish supply driven approach. However, in the process, most initiatives treat women as merely recipients of the intervention and fail to factor in the ‘female’ gender’s dimensions that may actually influence and reveal the effectiveness and sustainability of the solution. Policymakers in most countries remain gender blind as well, failing to include women in the development of energy policies or to draw on their local knowledge and influencing capacity to drive adoption within households and communities. Therefore despite their enormous potential, in the absence of active consultations with local women, many clean technologies fail to succeed simply because women’s needs and interests have not been considered.
Another factor that inhibits or limits women’s mainstreaming into the energy sector is the lack of awareness on how to plan and implement clean energy services in a manner that actually address women as more than mere recipients. By employing women in the delivery of energy, a traditionally male sphere can change perceptions of their capabilities and potentially challenge existing norms surrounding the gendered division of labour. 
This study therefore seeks to demonstrate the value of engaging women actively in the energy provisioning process, such that each aspect of the role played by them not only has a favourable impact on women’s empowerment socially and economically but also enables the overall intervention to be more effective and far reaching. For example, training local women in promoting and demonstrating clean lighting and cooking technologies not only enhances information dissemination and awareness generation but also brings in familiarity and a level of trust in the prospective end user community, leading to faster sales conversions and higher adoption rates. The model recognizes that women and girls are disproportionately and more severely affected by the lack of access to energy, and specifically works to include them as active participants in the delivery of clean energy solutions. In Shramik Bharti’s case, women SHG groups are engaged to involve women as consumers as well as diffusion agents in reaching a larger end user mass and to accelerate the last mile delivery of clean energy solutions. The case also reinforces that for microfinance as a means of lending, women are generally better credit risks and have better repayment rates than men—making them well suited to be part of a sustainable collection system that supports a continuous and expanding energy provisioning process.

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