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World Renewable Energy Congress VIII (WREC 2004). Copyright 2004. Published by Elsevier Ltd. Editor AAM Sayigh.

Household Energy for Rural Women in Nepal: Reality and Potential

-Gyami Shrestha1, Sudhir Raj Shrestha2 and Ganesh Ram Shrestha3
Background and Introduction
Women in Nepal have been overlooked during and after the planning and implementation of
household energy projects for decades. The undeniable fact, however, is that this intended or non-
intended exclusion of more than half of the country’s population from such vital components of life has
had its unavoidable consequences. The immediate impact of domestic household energy projects falls on
the women first (Shrestha et al. 2002). Since women are the ones who deal mostly with energy at the
domestic level, the benefits of a project or scheme excluding them would be less than if they had been
consulted and included from the conceptual to the implementation level and further.
In the Nepalese rural context, women work 11 to 14 hours a day against men working 8 to 10
hours. Women farmers spend approximately 4 more hours than men in agricultural work per day, in
addition to other household chores requiring 4 to 5 hours a day and many more hours spent on walking
miles to collect fuel wood. Waking up very early in the morning and going to sleep late at night is a
normal compulsory routine for them. Women's involvement in the agricultural sector contributes 54% of
the total household income, compared to a 46% contribution by men (Acharya and Bennett 1981). In the
replicated Status of Women Study in 1993, even after twelve years, the work burden of women still
remained much higher than that of men with a difference of 3.1 hours a day (Shtrii Shakti 1995)
National census and survey data show a wide disparity between men and women’s economic
activities, the reason of which may be the definitions used (MOPE 2002). For instance, the low-income
jobs and low-productive domestic jobs that women are constantly involved in are not considered as
‘economic activities’ in many surveys. A lot of this ‘insignificant’ labor goes into work related to
household energy.
The patriarchal culture of Nepal has had a humongous impact in the way labor and resources have
been divided and assigned to women. Evidently, most households’ decision-making power and control of
energy resources has always been and still is in the hands of the men of the house. Objectively, it can be
said that this tradition has helped stabilize and unify families, giving each member specific non-
overlapping roles. However, a fact that can not be overlooked, as already mentioned above, is that half
the population can not and should not be deprived of expressing their views and having some rights over
decision-making and projects. Several energy projects in Nepal and other countries have been found to
fail or not reap the expected benefits because the main procurers and managers of household energy, the
women, were not included or consulted initially or properly.
The Center for Rural Technology, Nepal (CRT/N) has been involved in two major projects
dealing with women, the UNEP (United Nations Environmental Program)- ICIMOD (International
Centre for Integrated Mountain Development) supported project on Women in Energy and Water
Management and the ENERGIA (Network for Gender and Sustainable Energy) assisted establishment of
the National Network on Energy, Gender and Water. Through this paper, an attempt has been made to
present some experiences and overview of findings in the course of the authors’ work with rural
women’s energy related issues.
National constitution and law in relation to Nepalese women and energy
Article 11th of the Nepalese Constitution of 1991, emphasizes equality on the basis of sex.
However, 118 legal provisions were found to be discriminating against women by a study commissioned
by the Ministry of Women. In 2002, the 11th amendment to the Civil Code was passed by the lower
house of the Parliament and the Women's Commission was established to look over issues related to

Currently at University of Wyoming, Laramie, WY 82072 USA; formerly Program Officer, Centre for Rural Technology
Nepal (CRT/N) Kathmandu, Nepal (Corresponding author:; fax 307-766-6403).
Currently at University of Wyoming, Laramie, WY 82072 USA; Formerly Consultant, CRT/N Kathmandu, Nepal
Executive Director, CRT/N, Kathmandu, Nepal
World Renewable Energy Congress VIII (WREC 2004). Copyright 2004. Published by Elsevier Ltd. Editor AAM Sayigh. 2

women. The code, drafted almost 6 years earlier, was called the ‘Women’s Property Rights Bill’ and it
had been drafted by the Ministry of Women and Social Welfare under the directives that the Supreme
Court gave in 1995 (Pandey 2001). Some major discriminatory laws against women were amended but
some of such laws are still intact and still wrongly discriminate against the women. The amendment was
later granted approval by His Majesty the King of Nepal in September 2002 and became a law. Out of
the many reforms in the code, the following reforms are of significance in relation to women's role in
household level energy related activities (Shrestha et al. 2002):
1. Daughters as heir to ancestral property
Prior to the Bill, a woman had to be unmarried and above 35 years old to be entitled to ancestral
property. Now, the Bill accepts that both the son and the daughter have equal rights to ancestral property
by birth. Through this reform, it is expected that even unmarried women may have ownership of energy
supply and management devices and technologies in their households. In the Nepalese context, it is
normally the male members of the family, including under aged male children, who handle technical
matters and technological devices in the households. They were the sole heir, excluding the daughters,
and hence rightfully possessed and handled devices like solar panels. This reform may thus entitle all
unmarried women to be one of the rightful heirs to all energy technologies installed by the parents and
hence generate more enthusiasm in them towards purchase and management of the technological devices.
The erstwhile lack of feeling of ownership which may have hindered these women's interest in
these technologies (already installed or with the probability of being installed) may thus be eradicated,
rendering any initiative to increase women's participation in household energy management, through
technology interventions, more effective.
2. Widow's full right to inheritance
A widow now has the right to use her share of property as she wishes even if she remarried.
Before the Bill, she had to attain the age of 30 to live separately before taking her share of property. A
widow may thus rightfully handle household cash (earned by her husband or inherited from her in-laws)
and purchase energy management related technological devices, depending on hers as well as her
family's needs. In the case that she had installed and been using these devices with her husband while
alive, she may be entitled to their ownership after her husband's death and even after remarrying.
3. Wife's right to husband's property
The Bill removes the condition that women must attain age 35 and complete 15 years of marriage
before she can live separately and take her share from her husband. This reform liberates women from
the compulsion to continue living with her husband just because of economic dependency. This also
improves women's control over energy based technological devices.
4. Right of upbringing the daughter
The Bill grants the right to feeding, clothing, appropriate education and health treatment to
daughters, the same way as to the sons. Previously, only the son had the right to upbringing while the
daughters were denied this right. This reform may be of importance in this particular context because the
daughters of the family also have rights to household energy resources, a right equal to that of sons. In
particular, daughters are involved in the collection and management of household energy resources, this
reform may also help to increase their access to and control over them.
5. Effectiveness of judgement execution on the case relating to share
The Bill provides for imprisonment ranging from 1 to 5 years or a fine of up to Rs. 5000 or both
to the party who denies giving the details of property. This has been done to address the problems that
may arise in the execution of judgements relating to property partition and to make such executions
effective. This reform is also important to ensure women's fair access and control of energy resources
and management devices owned by the family.
6. Inheritance right to divorced women
The Bill has provided that partition has to be made between the husband and the wife at the time
of divorce. Likewise, if a divorced woman wants to have a yearly or a monthly expenditure instead of
taking her share, the court may set such expenditure on the basis of the husband's property and level of
World Renewable Energy Congress VIII (WREC 2004). Copyright 2004. Published by Elsevier Ltd. Editor AAM Sayigh. 3

earnings. A divorced woman can have such earnings till she remarries. In the prevailing law a woman is
denied the right to property from both her parents as well as her in-laws in the case of divorce. This
reform ensures the control of both the husband and the wife over common family property.
Some of the discriminatory provisions which are still prevalent in the Bill and which are of
importance in our context are as follows:
1. Daughters should return their inherited share after marriage
Although the daughter is recognized as an equal heir as the son, the Bill demands that daughters
return their share to rightful heirs in case she gets married.
2. Discrimination among the daughters on the basis of marital status
The bill discriminates among daughters on the basis of marital status or between married and
unmarried daughters in partition, intestate property and in transaction of property, etc.
3. Daughters should return intestate property after her marriage
The provision in the Bill that daughters should return intestate property after her marriage is more
discriminatory than the existing law where a daughter is not required to return intestate property once she
gets it.
Other related acts and regulations
There are several acts and regulations on energy related matters viz. Forest Act 1993, Electricity
Act 1992, Electricity Regulations 1993, Environment Regulations 1995, Local Self -Governance Act
1998. These acts and regulations are found to be gender neutral. However the Local Governance Act is
the landmark act to strengthen the local government. It institutionalizes the spirit of decentralized
governance system and it is in this respect that it has widespread ramification in the say development
planning will be pushed henceforth. With the passage of the Act, the District Development Committees
will be the main agencies responsible for planning and implementing of district projects and these
agencies will have the authority to hire the professionals required to undertake their responsibilities- thus
making the line agencies redundant. This will enhance the control over the resources and programs of
local people including women. To ensure representation of women in local governance, this Act
mandates 20% representation by women in Ward membership. Although having just one woman in a
Ward, comprising of seven representatives does not seem to be much in terms of having their voices
heard, this mandatory representation has brought around 40,000 women in the local governance.
Recently in June 2002, these elected and nominated women ward representatives (ENWWR) have
formed a "Federation of ENWWR". This organized effort of women representatives is expected to
collectively act towards their political empowerment (Shrestha et al. 2002).
Nepalese Women's Role in Household Energy
In Nepal, women play three major simultaneous roles in relation to household energy: the role of
procurers of energy, the role of consumers of energy and the role of managers of energy. Approximately
90% of cooking and serving, 87% of food processing work, 90% of laundry and 45% of animal
husbandry work burden is borne by the rural women; out which cooking, livestock feeding, food
processing and laundry consume about 94% of the total household energy (Tuladhar et al. 1991).
Women empowerment organizations have trained women in the use of bamboo made solar driers
for food processing, helping them to reduce their workload and allowing more efficient energy
consumption, in terms of time and fuel, for an activity which has the potential of income-generation,
besides the usual household use. The product is more hygienic too, automatically improving the product
standard and its chance for better market availability and pricing (Shrestha et al. 2002). This example
was seen in Dhankutta, a district in Eastern Nepal.
Rural women are efficient managers and users of energy. They use different forms of fuels
according to the availability at different times of the year. In the winter, they use fuelwood, maize stalks
and shrubs while in the summer, they make use of wheat and paddy stalks. In the monsoon season
(summer), they make use of dung cakes and maize khoya. Thus, they know how to effectively manage
fuel energy resources depending on their availability (Shrestha et al. 2002). As managers of household
World Renewable Energy Congress VIII (WREC 2004). Copyright 2004. Published by Elsevier Ltd. Editor AAM Sayigh. 4

energy, women become more active, more concerned and tend to take their responsibility of conservation
more seriously as they feel that they would be the ones to suffer further if they do not care of energy
resources (Thapa 1996). This is clearly exemplified by their active involvement in the community
forestry system. They utilize forest products more appropriately since they know more about trees and
plants than the men due to the fact they are the chief users and collectors (Shrestha et al. 2002). They
collect twigs, dead branches, shrubs and dry leaves. They very seldom cut trees and even when they do
so, they know the ways to carefully lop them to allow regeneration. They are also the ones to make
highly energy efficient dung cakes out of straw and dung, storing them for energy deficient periods of the
In Palpa, a district in Western Nepal, there are 13 community forests (CFs) which are completely
managed by women. 11 CFs have already been handed over and 4 CFs are under the process of being
handed over. The CFs which are completely managed by women contributes to 4.1 % of the total
community forest they take all the decisions for their management (Palpa District Forest Office, 2002).
Access of energy based technologies to women
Most rural Nepalese women do not have the financial and technical knowledge resources, among
others resources, to purchase improved energy technologies for their homes. The major reasons for this
are their lack of control over family finances and decision-making power for purchases as well as their
absence of ‘visible’ income generating activities. They are mostly engaged in unpaid labor intensive
domestic and agricultural work, the opportunity cost of which is considered zero, resulting in their lack
of time and skills for involvement in income generating activities, a never ending vicious cycle. Labor
saving and productivity enhancing technologies; subsidies and/or credits for women for the purchase and
establishment of such technologies; skill trainings, access to information and knowledge on the market;
and gender sensitization to ensure women’s equal access and control over income and other resources
would undoubtedly help to break the aforementioned vicious cycle that has been going on for ages
immemorial in the Nepalese society. There is a higher potential for the sustainability of energy related
technological interventions and projects if the women are involved in that way too.
At the policy level, the issues of women have not been addressed adequately. According to
Bhadra (2002), the name of gender mainstreaming, policy documents often spell the term ‘gender’ and/or
women and forget about it completely during the program formulation and/or implementation. Also,
gender mainstreaming remains more of rhetoric than practice and if ever gender is considered, it mostly
remains a separate addendum without any link to the main body of policy and program documents
(Bhadra 2002). In 1995, the Water and Energy Commission Secretariat (WECS) published its guidelines
for the incorporation of gender issues in the water and energy sector. The 1997 WECS commissioned
study on institutional strengthening in rural energy planning and implementation included
recommendations on gender issues such as gender sensitization, gender desegregated database and
commissioning of gender experts in planning and programming. However, there was no gender
specialist/expert commissioned by WECS in the formulation of the water resources strategy (Bhadra
Some women-friendly household energy technologies that have been promoted in the past years
in the rural parts of Nepal are improved cookstoves, biogas, solar box cookers and solar driers.
Gender Issues in the Household Energy Sector
Past deforestation trends have intensified rural women’s role as collectors of energy as nearby
forests have been laid bare. They have to go farther to fetch fuel-wood, spending more time on this task.
They are carrying up to 35 kilograms for a distance of about 10 km from home, which is higher than the
maximum permissible by ILO laws (20 Kg) (Tuladhar et al. 1991). This is an obvious drudgery which
takes a heavy toll on their health. The fact that they already are victims of poor nutrition can not be
overlooked. Low life expectancy of Nepalese women is highly contributed by the excessive workload
and lack of nutrition. The workload of fuel collection is so high that the mothers have to seek the
World Renewable Energy Congress VIII (WREC 2004). Copyright 2004. Published by Elsevier Ltd. Editor AAM Sayigh. 5

assistance of their children, especially their daughters in this work as well as in other household chores
(Thapa 1996), resulting in these girls losing their opportunity for schooling.
Women's security has also been an issue concerning her role as fuel collector as they have to go
to forests and to new patches to collect wood and fodder. There are instances of violence against women
(e.g., rape and/or abduction for trafficking) while they are in search of fuel and fodder (Shrestha et al.
Women in their cooking role are in constant exposure to smoke from traditional cook stoves, which
adversely affects their health, giving rise to respiratory diseases and eye infections. The scarcity of fuel
wood has forced women to use more agricultural residues leading to loss of natural manure ultimately
leading to the reduction in soil fertility (Thapa 1996). Also, the use of such residues and poor quality
fuel wood creates more smoke in the rural households, most of which have very poor ventilation. 24 hour
mean levels for PM10 in homes using biomass fuels in Asia have been found to be around 1000 µg/m3
while the current limit set by US EPA is 150 µg/m3 (WHO 2004). Eye diseases and respiratory diseases
like bronchitis and pneumonia are common diseases resulting from exposure to such smoke. According
to Dankelman (1998), naso-pharyngeal cancer has been found to be common in young people who have
been inhaled such smoke since infancy. Apart from woman who is cooking, all the other family
members' health, particularly the infants and young children who stay close to the cooking mother, is also
affected in a similar manner (Thapa 1996).
Due to lack of adequate and appropriate fuel, women have to resort to only cooking food that
takes less time to cook, excluding proteinous food like beans and legumes (Thapa 1996). This may thus
lead to malnutrition in the family. Furthermore, to save fuel, food for several meals is cooked in bulk all
at once even though no refrigeration facility is available, which leads to gastro-intestinal disorders. When
family members get ill, it is the women who have additional workload to take care of sick members.
Some examples of women and energy use in Nepalese villages
Examples of some views expressed by women and men during the author’s visit to some parts of
Nepal (Shrestha et al. 2002; Shrestha and Rai 2002) have been given here:
i. According to Yam Maya Thapa, a woman farmer from Parewadin VDC (Village Development
Committee), she needs 70-80 bhari4 of fuel wood per year. Since the last 3-4 years, deforestation has
been going on at an alarming rate. Since the last 1-2 years, the little fuel wood that she can collect is not
enough to satisfy her demand. She says that this is because the forests were handed over to the
community and converted into community forests. This is also because a lot of the forest has been
exploited and the new tree saplings that were recently planted are still young. However, she does not buy
wood. She manages to collect extra fuel wood from here and there, from trees and agricultural residues in
her own fields. This example reminds us of women’s environmental awareness in spite of limited access
to information and knowledge.
ii. According to Yog Maya Chaulagain, Tankhuwa VDC, there are only two functional biogas
plants in her village now. The other ones that were installed have become derelict due to lack of repair
and maintenance. She says that the biogas companies should train the women also, to maintain and repair
the plant but the one which installed the plants in her VDC didn't train the women users. This excerpt
illustrates the failure of a project due to lack of women’s inclusion.
iv. Man Maya Gurung is a mother of 3 children and a resident of Murtidhunga VDC, Dhankutta.
She says that she does not get informed about trainings for women like her when they are organized.
She’s heard that some training occur at the VDC office but she does not have time to go there and attend.
She has to work all the day, at home and in the field." Obviously, time and women’s work schedule
should be one of the main factors when deciding on any activity for project development and
v. Bishnu Maya Karki’s friend from Lamjung district went to a training of trainers for the
installation, making and maintenance of improved cookstoves (ICSs). She learnt this skill from that

The weight of a wood bundle, which depends on the carrying person and the place where it is collected (Loughran and Pritchett 1997)
World Renewable Energy Congress VIII (WREC 2004). Copyright 2004. Published by Elsevier Ltd. Editor AAM Sayigh. 6

friend and now, she builds ICSs for other people and gets a steady income from that. This instance
demonstrates the power and efficiency of technology transfer to women.
Improved cookstoves have had a definite positive impact on the lives of women in Nepal.
Improvement in health, reduction of cooking time, increase in cleanliness, reduction of fuel wood
consumption and women’s drudgery are some of the main benefits that have been witnessed and reported
(Shrestha and Rai 2002).
It is evident that the rural women of Nepal have faced immense difficulties in order to gain access
to and benefit from household energy technologies and projects. Socio-cultural, economical and legal
factors have played major roles in causing such gender disparities. Several local, national and
international agencies have been opting for better gender-sensitive and gender streamlining approaches to
remediate mistakes of the past and these efforts are starting to bear fruit slowly. It is obvious that the
women of Nepal have a lot of potential; they just need to be nudged and assisted a bit towards achieving
a balance with men in all sectors of their lives, including the energy sector.
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