Exploring Factors that Enhance and restrict Women's Empowerment through Electrification (EFEWEE)15 May 2015
by Dr. Magi Matinga
Dear Friends and Colleagues,
It is with great pleasure that our team welcomes you to our online space for the research project: "Exploring Factors that Enhance and restrict Women's Empowerment through Electrification (EFEWEE)". We are very excited to be part of this project and want to share our experiences and the lessons we will learn on this blog. For our first blog entry, we would like to introduce ourselves – meet us here, and what it is we hope to do in this research.
The realisation of the role that access to modern energy can play in development outcomes has increased in leaps and bounds over the last decade or so. Access to modern energy services has been linked to improved incomes, health, environmental outcomes and gender equality. While the connections seem common sense once you get to them, the empirical evidence on these outcomes and the processes as well as systems that bring about the best possible results are however less understood. There are simply few studies that provide robust evidence. This is especially the case when it comes to gender particularly in the case of electrification. We therefore hope to contribute some evidence that will show us whether and how electrification can contribute to gender empowerment.
At a time when many are looking at portable lighting products and clean cookstoves, why are we looking at electrification? Well, first we do look at electrification in a broad sense and not limited to centralised grid electrification. In addition, electrification remains, to this day, a product and service that is aspired for by many, both on the government (public services) side and on the side of consumers. This is in part due to historico-political reasons but also for practical reasons. Electricity is extremely versatile because it can provide lighting, motive power, and can be used for thermal applications. Moreover, we believe part of achieving gender equality goals in the energy sector is allowing women and men the opportunity to access a wide range of energy technologies and systems and leaving them the choice – as much as feasible – of how to access modern energy services. We believe that addressing women's energy in the energy sector should go beyond the popular focus on reproductive roles of women which results in a focus on cooking only, and that the energy needs of the poor go beyond lighting and cooking. Yes, clean cooking and better lighting are is extremely important but women need and deserve more! Our research does not aim to take away from the excellent work being done in gender and clean cooking or gender and lighting. Rather it expands on and complements this work.
Another unique aspect of our research is our take on gender. We look at gender beyond women vs men. We strongly feel the women vs men approach glosses over the differences that one finds within women as a social category as well as men as a social category. We are very much aware that not all women are poor and oppressed and not all men in privileged positions. In terms of energy fr example, women in urban areas are more likely to have access to electricity than poor men in rural areas. We also understand that women and men of different ages, relational-positions (e.g. being a mother-in-law or an aunt), economic status etc have different forms of power. We believe that in addition to the roles assigned to women and men, several other factors intersect to govern the privilege that women and men have. We therefore plan to take an intersectional approach to our gender analysis.
Ultimately we will be looking at how the various configurations and processes around electrification affects women's empowerment. We will be looking at whether and how energy access affects women's empowerment and how this is dependent on the choice and design of technological system, the ownership and management of the systems, the electrification planning and implementation processes – including who is involved and how they come to be involved, cultural factors, and the policy, regulation and financing schemes. Looking across different sites in Nepal, India and Kenya, we hope to identify the factors in social-technical systems and processes around electrification that interact in a manner that supports gender empowerment. Thus we are not only interested in the what, but also the how. We look forward to sharing our results with policymakers and energy experts to use in their work for better gender outcomes.