What does it mean to be empowered today?
And specifically, what does it mean to be an empowered woman in today’s world?
Is it a woman capable of making her own personal decisions?
Or does she have the freedom to work...to be financially independent?
It’s by no means a simple definition.
So let’s break it down.
Empowerment comes in different shapes and sizes:
Women’s political empowerment is the idea that women have an active and clear voice in the policies that affect them.
Women’s social empowerment is the notion that women are free from any form of abuse or oppression.
Women’s economic empowerment is the ability for women to make their own financial decisions.
The Energy-Empowerment Connection
Well, today, we’re here to add another layer to the empowerment conversation...the idea that energy can play a vital role in empowering women, specifically in off-the-grid locations worldwide.
For starters, electricity provides women with a critical resource: extra time.
A stove saves hours. A washing machine saves even more hours. No need to collect firewood to warm and feed your family. No more running to the river to gather water.
Since women tend to bear the brunt of domestic tasks, energy therefore translates into freedom.
Pursue work opportunities
Be involved in the community
Communicate outside of the community
Be active in local politics
Unfortunately, no power does the exact opposite. No energy represents a lack of freedom and zero empowerment.
And the numbers are bleak…
It has been estimated that 1.6 billion people live without reliable sources of power, and that 2.7 billion people still depend on open fires and traditional stoves for cooking and heating. That’s a whole lot of people with no access to energy for time-saving appliances.
The Energy-Education-Empowerment Link
Energy is also linked to whether or not women can access education, a key component of women’s social empowerment.
Shockingly, it has even been found that 65% of girls around the world with a primary education (or less) are married at a very young age, lack control over their own household, and excuse wife-beating as opposed to only 5 % of women who finish high school.
As a result, lack of education has been linked to domestic violence and poverty. The aggressions they face force them into a position of inferiority and endanger their own well-being as well as that of their children.
Check out this video by the World Bank explaining the correlation between women empowerment and education:
So how does energy fit into this?
Studies in Brazil have shown that 59% of girls in rural areas with access to electricity are more likely to complete primary education by age 18 than girls with no access to energy.
Check out the graph below:
So in practice how can energy help more women get educated?
It all comes back to that critical resource: extra time.
A washing machine will save you hours of chores. A light bulb allows you to do homework after dark. Street lamps mean you can walk out after sunset.
With energy comes the ability to read, to study and to educate yourself.
With more hours in the day and freedom to work past daylight, girls are able to invest themselves in their studies more than ever before.
Not convinced? Take a look at this video by the World Bank about how solar energy is empowering women in Bangladesh:
The Energy-Enterprise-Empowerment Link
By allowing easier access to education, a freer schedule, and overall flexibility, energy leaves room for a very important addition to women’s life: employment.
A study in South Africa showed that massive electrification in rural areas raised female employment by 9.5% , likely due to women being able to create their own microenterprises. In Nicaragua, another study noticed that 23% of rural women who had access to electricity were able to work outside the home. (It’s important to note that in both studies, new energy did not seem to affect male employment).
Why is this good news?
Microenterprises are known to be crucial to rural job creation and poverty alleviation. Women are released from domestic tasks and can not only work but can also start their own microenterprises such small franchises or craft selling… Women are now able to attract customers, have longer working hours, automate their production, preserve products for longer and even communicate outside of their small community.
What’s even cooler to see is how income is affected by energy. Check out this following study done in Brazil:
As you can see, there is a striking gap in income for women with and without energy. Income for self-employed rural women with access to energy is twice that of those without access. The same seems to apply to men. In an urban setting, these gaps are even more pronounced.
Did you know? It has been shown that the greater a proportion of the country’s population has access to electricity, the greater its gender equality, even if the population is living under $1.25 per day.
But that’s not all… Not only do women have the opportunity to work and create their own microenterprises, but they’ve also proven themselves to be excellent advocates, distributors and communicators when it comes to the spread of clean energy.
And it makes sense. As Reddy (1996) explains, women are the most logical members of the community to be renewable energy entrepreneurs. They are the first victims of energy scarcity and the first beneficiaries of electrification. As the main people in charge of energy in the household, women know how to run and how to manage power.
But what does this all mean for India?
Lately, women’s rights has been a hot topic in India.
Between high profile cases like the 2012 Delhi gang rape or the dozen of women who died after undergoing sterilization procedures in Chhattisgarh, India has received negative publicity about its ability to protect women’s rights.
And there are still a few problems to be tackled:
1. According to the World Bank, 21.3% of India does not have access to electricity. That’s 1 out of 5 people. And it’s safe to say that nearly half of those represent women. The challenge to deliver electricity to this population remains substantial.
2. Providing power is one thing, making sure that power is reliable and renewable is another. The focus needs to be on providing renewable energy that is reliable and affordable.
3. Studies have shown that the benefits of energy access can be delayed. It might even appear across generations. Lewis showed that from 1930 to 1960 in the United States, “household electrification had no immediate impact on female employment, but is associated with increased school attendance, particularly among teenage daughters, and ultimately led to improvements in the labor market outcomes of subsequent cohorts of women.” In other words, it will likely be the daughters of today’s mothers who will benefit from reliable energy in their communities.
So what can we conclude?
As of yet, there is a lack of substantial research on the relationship between women empowerment and energy.
Here at Oorja, we are excited to see just how strong this connection is in new studies, as well as with our own initiatives.
Oorja’s model relies on local knowledge, networks, and trust within the community… and that means relying on women and women’s self-help groups.
We are beyond thrilled to incorporate women into our entire value chain. From plant maintenance, all the way to billings and collections. And it will be truly exciting to watch what this livelihood opportunity and extra income will mean to the rural women in our target communities.
Our ultimate goal? To make sure that in a decade from now, the red is a lot more prominent than the blue on this graph:
So tell us, what are your thoughts about the relationship between women empowerment and energy?