Energy has always been conceived as too technical by women and this is not related only to Nepalese women but is a rather universal issue. When we look at the presence of women in the Nepalese energy sector, we have to start from the very beginning and look at the basic awareness of energy topics in women. Still today, there are cases in newly electrified places, where women died from electric shock as they lacked basic awareness‚
This article summarises some of the main themes that were discussed during the International Workshop on Gender and Energy - Electricity Access and the Changing Social Position of Women in Nepal on March 28, 2018 in Nepal.
Women in the Energy Sector
As compared to men, access to energy has different implications for women. The way women use energy is different than that of a man. Hence, there is a need to include gender perspectives while designing energy policies and we can now see more examples of energy policies that do so.
The gender perspective in energy access has so far been limited to access to cooking energy and does not include other aspects like access to electricity. The present electricity policy rarely address gender issues. There is a general belief that if you invest in electrification projects, the benefits will trickle down equally to both men and women. However, there is a lack of gender divided data to support this hypothesis.
Not including women in the electricity sector is a missed opportunity.
Access to Electricity and PEU
During the workshop, the panel also presented two studies from Nepal and Kenya. The case studies look into the effect of electrification from gender perspective and are still ongoing.
According to the study in Kenya, men were the main electricity subscribers. The decision to place lightning in the house were jointly decided by the men and the women but the men often tends to ignore the kitchen where the women spends most of her time. Also looking at the use of the electricity, men used the electricity mostly for productive activities (PEU) while the female used it for cooking i.e increased access to mixer-grinder and other electrical appliances. The use of electricity is still largely shaped by traditional socio-cultural norms.
In contrast, in rural Nepal, women were involved in various productive activities (PEU) such as opening general shops and poultry. The additional income from PEU allowed women to not only improve their income but also their social positions.
In general, using electricity for PEU or more other energy appliances saves time and could mean more leisure time for women - this is also very important. It also enables opportunities for better connectivity, entertainment and information sharing via appliances such as television, radio and internet access.
Basic Awareness about Safety
In newly electrified areas, the women lack the basic awareness about electricity and there are even cases of women dying from electricity shock. All these can be prevented if awareness campaigns are conducted in newly electrified areas. The study in Nepal found that the technical trainings were provided mostly to men and did not consider women's participation. In cases where women were involved, a follow up was needed.
The energy policies need to be gender equitable and not gender blind. Looking at the Energy Strategy 2012 from Nepal, it only has two agenda for addressing women. However, the CREE project makes an effort to include women's participation during energy implementation.
For more on gender violence, refer to this article
Access to Electricity and Social Issues
With access to electricity, the people have access to cell phone and other electrical appliances and what does this mean for the society? There are several indirect impacts on the society. There are increased social issues such as intercaste marriages, early age marriage, increasing rate of divorce has to be looked at.
Previously arranged marriage was the prevalent form of marriage in rural Nepal. With the access to electricity, the people have access to cellphones and other electrical appliances. Within this timeframe, the increasing cases of intercaste marriage, early age marriage and divorce rate is also observed. The study in Nepal observed that the communities showed concern about these changing social trends and there were even cases where the parents did not allow their daughters to go away for their higher education (fear of them eloping or intercaste marriage).
- Women friendly technologies that they can operate easily
- After-sales service for holistic development of the sector
- Access to trainings and information for women
- Subsidies for electrical appliances to protoe their uptake
Hence, access to electricity is a multi-dimension issue and desinging a electricity access program should take into all social, cultural and gender issues into account.
This paper summarized the points discussed in the conference. For detailed information about the case studies, please have a look at the the Exploring Factors that Enhance and Restrict Women’s Empowerment through Electrification (EFEWEE) program.