Engaging with women for driving the BOP clean energy agenda

Somatish Banerji | February 23rd, 2015, 2:49 pm

As the shadow cast by climate change worldwide expands, the signs of its potentially lethal impact loom large, particularly on emerging economies. Predominantly agrarian in nature, most emerging economies have large rural populations which are at the extreme receiving end of this impact. Further, within the rural populace, women as the predominant household end users of energy, are affected the most.

According to Dalberg and Global Alliance of Clean Cookstoves, dependence on solid fuels as primary cooking fuel exposes 400 million people in India to indoor air pollution (IAP), of which 90% are women and the rest are mainly children under five. According to WHO, IAP kills 4.3 million people worldwide each year, most of whom are women and children. Re-emerging World’s in-house research shows that women in rural BOP households spend about five hours per week collecting firewood for cooking and at least three hours daily in smoke filled kitchens causing serious respiratory health problems and endangering their lives. World Bank estimates that 1.2 billion people lack access to electricity worldwide of which over 400 million reside in India. The impact is again particularly acute on women. Lack of reliable access to electricity forces women to remain occupied with household chores like cooking and cleaning before sunset, restricting them from engaging in income-generating activities during daytime hours. While cooking in the evening, they have little option but to resort to polluting kerosene lamps.

With energy poverty affecting women the most, it is only by engaging with and promoting women as clean energy entrepreneurs and leaders that behavioral changes can be triggered, local business can be grown and green economies can be created.

Women as energy end users

Rural women play a pivotal role in ensuring well-being of their families. In the rural context, although men often control the purse strings, it is predominantly the women who are the end users of energy. This makes women inherently more appreciative of the need for clean energy access while for men, other household expenditures assume precedence. Any model promoting rural clean energy access must effectively reach women end users as they can be influenced to in turn, make a case in favor of adopting clean energy solutions to the men in their households. However, social and cultural factors restrict the rural woman’s movement beyond her home and interaction with other men. Models engaging women as clean energy leaders is therefore, the ideal option for reaching out to and connecting with rural women end users.

Women as clean energy entrepreneurs

Rural villages are traditionally characterized by male dominated societal structures which underplay the role of women and often try to restrict it within boundaries of their homes. In reality however, she plays a multidimensional and often, a greater role in family and community welfare by acting as an agent of change both within their households and in her community. Some of these women exhibit strong motivation to economically support their families and aspire for economic self-reliance. Over time, such aspirations have found expression by way of these women organising themselves in the form of self-help groups, taking up entrepreneurial ventures or actively supporting their husbands in running their businesses. Encouraging and empowering spirited rural women to take up clean energy ventures will open up an additional income stream for them and their households. Building their professional skills will enable them to also conduct other local business ventures like tailoring, beauty parlours etc. more efficiently. Further, organising them into a network of rural women entrepreneurs can further the women empowerment and gender equality agenda on the one hand and can create an effective last mile distribution channel for private sector companies on the other.

Women as climate change leaders

According to an insightful article by Mary Robinson published on the United Nations Environment Programme, women better understand the inter-generational aspects of climate change and sustainable development. Globally, driven by this understanding, women are adapting to unpredictable crop seasons, water shortages and environment-induced diseases by practicing crop diversification, rainwater harvesting and growing livestock fodder. According to World Bank, 40% of the global labor force and 43% of the agricultural labor force are women. Women are increasingly taking up leadership roles in propagating the importance of practicing sustainable agriculture, protecting natural resources and adopting renewable energy. It is therefore, imperative to acknowledge and harness the contribution of women as educators, entrepreneurs and climate change leaders by including them in the decision making process for addressing climate change.