Gender Mainstreaming in Mini-grids - Entry Points
Gender mainstreaming should be done in all phases of the mini-grid development: consultations and Planning, Construction, Operation and maintenance and End use of electricity. The different approaches for involving women are discussed below.
Consultation and Planning
Involving women in community consultation for mini-grid planning taps into their indigenous knowledge about the natural resources and also their potential electricity demand for mini-grid sizing.It also ensures that the electricity generated benefits both men and women equally and both of their interests are represented. In many communities, the existing culture and traditions can hinder the participation of women in community consultation and planning phase and thus specific action have to planned for integrating women.
Some of the approaches for integrating women in consultation and planning are:
Gender Specific Demand Assessment
During the site selection, along with the site data and the demand assessment, gender specific demand assessment should be carried out to understand the gendered needs of the target community.
Gender based assessment also helps to determine if and how the planned mini-grid will impact the different gender needs and roles of the women. Some of the questions that can be asked during the gender assessment are:
- What is the household composition? Size of the household, structure of the household (nuclear or joint families), sex composition and division of labor by age and sex.
- What is the source of household income? Who has control over household income and how is the decision-making power distributed?
- What is the composition of the women in the target community? What are the productive, reproductive and community roles of women?
- What are the practical and strategic needs of women?
- Are there any national or policies that focus on energy and gender? What kind of subsidies or grants are there for women led projects?
Since women are mostly excluded from the decision making process within the household as well as in public consultation (due to social and cultural barriers), special strategies have to be taken to ensure equal participation. Participation is also costly for rural women in terms of time. These meetings are often time consuming and the women who are already overburdened with their triple roles might not have time to attend. Thus, specific stratgies such as having consultation meetings during off-farming time, providing childcare facilities at the meeting place, having meetings at a place easily accessible by women increases their participation. Other practical approaches include praising women when they express their ideas to boost up their confidence and including elderly women to enforce the women's voices.
For equal participation, the existing cultural and social barriers should also be addressed. In many countries, cultural norms dictate if a woman is allowed to speak in public or not, especially if they are opposing men’s view. Also when a woman is expressing her opinions in public forums, it is often the collective views of all women as compared to men who are mostly speaking for themselves. Thus, separate committees for men and women provides a safe space for women to open up and express their opinions. It also serves as a place for further capacity building as well as confidence building during the later phases of mini-grid development . Men and women can be separately consulted about the mini-grid before bringing them together to a public platform for joint consultation.
Depending on the business model, men and women both supply physical labor during the construction of the mini-grid. However, women’s roles can be limited to the traditional sphere such as providing food and laundry at the construction site. Hence, approaches such as positive discrimination to recruit more women engineers and technicians, enhancing women’s safety at the project construction sites along with other amenities such as separate toilet and washing facilities for men and women can encourage more women to take part during the construction phase.
Operation and Maintenance
As energy is largely a male dominated area, men are preferred for the operation and maintenance of the mini-grids. The women, on the other hand, prefer to stay in the supporting or management role. Thus, extra effort has to be made to tackle these constraints and involve women in O&M. Some of the strategies include:
Separate Training for Men and Women
In Guatemala when PV management training was offered, it was mostly the men who took part and the women were only observing their husbands. The program then offered separate training for women in their own homes. This increased women’s participation greatly. The reason could be that the women did not have to travel and trainings at home also provided a safe environment to ask questions without being judged or embarrassed in front of their husbands.
Separate training are helpful as men tend to dominate the conversations and the women are less likely to express their opinions/queries during the training. Training should also be provided at a time and location that is favorable to both men and women. For women with children, child-care service could be provided during the training.
Innovative Training Models
Women in rural areas are mostly illiterate and this is often cited as a difficulty for training them. However, there are positive examples from organizations such as the Barefoot college in India that uses an innovative model to train illiterate women on solar technology. The women are taught to identify the solar parts by using shape and color and then execute the task by examples i.e. learning by doing. Such innovative training can make it easy to recruit women operators as it helps to remove self-doubt and increase the confidence of the women. Women are also juggling multiple responsibilities and thus a standard and rigorous training program for a few months might not be feasible. Instead, extending the training over a longer period and only offering a few hours a day makes it easier to attend. A solar training program in Malawi changed a 3-4 months program into 16-month programs with only 2 days a week and 3 hours per day to increase women’s participation.
Involving women in the management committee brings the women’s perceptive on board. Women also experience a greater sense of independence as compared to only being electricity beneficiaries. However, caution should be taken so that they are not only “token” women but also have adequate decision-making power. Also in many cases, when women are involved in the management or decision-making aspect, it is usually for a temporary time and their decision can be reverted by men due to their superior position in society. Thus, it is also important to raise awareness among men so that they respect the women’s decisions in the management committee.
Demystifying the Mini-grid Technology
Activities such as visits to the mini-grid plants, demonstration of different technical features, as well as trainings help to demystify the technology. When women are able to see the technology, it helps to break the stereotypes and also demystify the technology.
End Use of Electricity
Productive Use of Electricity (PUE) is the heart of making mini-grid sustainable and involving women in PUE will not only boost them but also contribute financially to the mini-grid. Women also represent an untapped resource that can be used to boost the end use of mini-grids. There are different options for involving women in end use of electricity:
Although women are considered bankable and have a higher credit repayment rate, they usually have little or no collateral to get loans in the traditional way. Thus, innovative financing options are needed to finance women entrepreneurs.
Microfinance is one of the popular options for providing credit to women. Around 100% of microfinance institutions (MFI) in Asia and around 70% MFI in Africa are managed and run by women. Microfinance also has a negative correlation with gender inequality. To cover the high up-front cost of PUE, grants, interest-free loans and subsidies can be provided using microfinance facilities. In case, the credit is provided in cash, it could be controlled by the husband and therefore non-cash options such as technology transfer or raw material hand-down should also be promoted. The financing options can also be tied with access to resources to encourage women empowerment. For example, in Nepal, ICIMOD provides subsidies to all farmers for covering up-front cost of solar powered irrigation systems. In addition to this subsidy, they provide a top-up of 10% if the land is registered in the women’s name. This strategy helps to finance energy technology as well as increase women’s access to land resources.
Along with access to credit, other trainings such as the use of new electrical appliances, management and business skills development are required to boost up women’s participation. These training programs should take into account the women’s need as well as the local resources available.
Upgrade to the Latest Technologies
Many traditional PUE activities such as milling, and carpentry need physical strength to carry out the tasks and this might deter women from taking part. When these businesses are mechanized using the latest technology, electric power replaces the physical strength making it easy for women to carry out the tasks. However, when technology is upgraded and has higher productivity, there are chances that men might take over. Hence, both men and women should be involved in different income generating activities so that men do not overtake the women led PUE.
Support for Scaling Up
In rural areas, women are mostly working in small scale enterprises which are often in the informal sector and are not registered. These activities have a low rate of return and are either home based or close to home. When women receive support to scale up their business, they can not only expand their business but also increase their electricity consumption.
Involve Women Cooperatives
Involving women association and cooperatives can help women to consolidate their voice and increase their bargaining power with the government and other authorities. Women cooperative can also get the resources for PUE at a lower cost and look for strategies to target new customers jointly . In case there are no pre-existing women’s cooperatives, they can be formed during/after the mini-grid to provide a space for women to carry out new PUE activities and also empower them by providing necessary training and skill buildings.
There is a dearth of literature on how women can be involved in mini-grid development. However, other sectors such as forest and water management provide positive examples on how women’s involvement positively benefits the systems. Some of these examples can also be generalized for energy sector but more research is required in the energy sector. Also, gender mainstreaming activities comes with a cost. The cost includes the time that women have to invest (in addition to their triple role activities).
Involving men is the common thread that runs through all the gender mainstreaming activities. In many countries, men are the ones who decide on the type and location of employment that can be pursued by women. Also, Women might give up work if it is not acceptable by other family members. Thus, involving men in all stages of mini-grid is important to ensure equal participation of both men and women. Men can be made aware of the triple roles and gender needs of women and also on how and why it is important to support women's participation.
- Gender - Introduction
- Gender Mainstreaming in Powering Agriculture
- Gender Mainstreaming in Energy - Need
- Gender Mainstreaming - Framework
- All articles on gender and energy nexus
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