Lack of energy access affecting women’s prosperity in India

A recent report shows how energy requirement of women differ in various states and in different occupations and how limiting the current scenarios are

By Aruna Kumarankandath
Published: Tuesday 24 May 2016

Energy requirements of women extend beyond cooking fuel

SEWA Bharat and SELCO Foundation together formed a “Stree Shakti Consortium” to promote the inclusion of women in energy access supply chain. The consortium, yesterday, conducted a workshop to present a report called “Energy Access and Women's Livelihood” that articulates on-ground stories of 300 women in four states—Uttarakhand, Gujarat, Bihar and Karnataka.

Since SEWA Bharat works with women employed in the informal economy, the focus group discussions were also conducted with them for the report. The report is a first attempt to understand the energy needs of women beyond their cooking energy needs. Many studies in the past have focused on biomass consumption and clean cooking stoves. Women who work from home, street vendors, agricultural workers, construction workers and small shops and commercials were asked about how they interact with energy and what that means in their day to day lives. Veena Joshi, one of the consultants for energy and development, explained, “This study is a qualitative look at energy requirements and no numbers are being analysed.”

The study found that barring Gujarat, all three states had intermittent supply that varied seasonally. In one instance, having electricity only in morning and evenings had an impact of livelihood of women who worked from home. They needed to have electricity to work during the day, which was not available. “Unfortunately, electrification or providing energy access does not focus on the drudgery of the women’s work and still has a sexist view of limiting them to the kitchen,” said a consultant working with the consortium. Women from all walks of life from the four states presented their positions on the energy access.

Other instances of energy gap for women have come to light through this report. Women street vendors want electricity for storing their vegetables and fishes, but have not received reliable power to transform their business. Agricultural workers are deprived of mechanised tools to ease their work, but have no respite. Even basic things as irrigation pumps are not available to them, since solar-powered pumps are expensive and diesel pumps use expensive fuel. Small shops cannot have well-lit display because of power cuts.

The study, however, has its limitations. Only four states were studied for analysis, which is not enough data to create an informed policy change. Also, the study gathered information on the current habits of the people and not on the aspirational needs.

Renana Jhabvala, Chairperson of SEWA Bharat elaborated, “This report is just the beginning to understand the correlation between energy and prosperity for the women in the informal sector. We need to scale up and commercialise innovative solutions that exist along with developing innovative solutions. All these would need policy support and research on the ground which we are yet to embark on.”

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