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Ishara Mahat Massey University
Conflicting Views When I started writing this paper, I asked myself, is it worthwhile to link empowerment with rural energy technologies? John Friedmann (1992) defines empowerment as providing social, psychological and political power. Can rural energy technologies provide all these powers to rural women? I argued with myself, women are always disempowered with new technology, it is impossible! However, opposite view has gained my support over time. Rural energy technology has potential to save the metabolic energy and the time of women, which could be used for other productive activities that enable women to be socially, psychologically and politically empowered. In my view, energy is much more than mechanical power that is accessible through technology. Energy from compassionate point of view should be linked to the sensitivity of rural women, who expend their physical energy at the risk of their lives. Their livelihoods are threatened due to their heavy workload and
deteriorating health conditions in the absence of good nutrition and health services. Women in Nepal have a lower life expectancy: 53 years as opposed to 55 years for men which contradicts a global trend (HDI, 1998). Background of Rural Energy in Nepal More than 80 percent people living in rural areas of Nepal depend on traditional fuel for fulfilling the household energy requirements, which are primarily managed by women. In addition, women are the ones who are primarily responsible for hulling and grinding activities with indigenous technologies. In rural mountain areas, women still wake up early around 4 AM to hull and grind grain and walk four to five hours to collect a bundle of firewood. In such circumstances, women’s roles in managing household energy systems should not be underestimated. The table below presents the status of energy use in Nepal.
Table 1: Rural Energy Situation in Nepal Types of Fuelwood Used Qty of Fuel Used Fuelwood 78% Agricultural By-Product 4% Animal Waste 6% Total Biomass Used 88% Electricity 1% Petroleum 9% Coal 2% TOTAL 100% Source: CES, 2000
As shown in Table 1, about 88 percent of total energy consumption in Nepal is met by biomass resources, among which, the major percentage comes from fuel wood (78%)). The rest (12%) is met by commercial energy sources – petroleum products (9%), coal (2%) and electricity (1% (CES, 2000). Only about 14 percent of the total population have access to electricity and that covers 3 percent of the rural population (Banskota and Sharma, 1999:107). Excessive use of biomass energy is not only a threat to the environment due to the high use of forest resources, but also results in a drop off in agricultural productivity due to the diversion of agricultural residues and animal waste from farms to fireplace. This situation is worsened by the low-level efficiency of these fuels, which are a health hazard due to increased air pollution, particularly to rural women who are the managers, producers and users of energy at the household level (Amatya and Shrestha, 1998). There are alternative energy technologies (AETs) that offer significant potential in terms of reducing women’s drudgery, and improving health conditions, allowing women to have enough time to be involved in income-generating, social and community development activities for their self-enhancement and empowerment. These alternative energy technologies are renewable and include biogas, improved cooking stoves, micro-hydro power, and
solar photovoltaic (Amatya and Shrestha, 1998:88). The term rural energy technologies is also used in my text. This includes AETs as well as indigenous energy technologies, such as janto (traditional technique of grinding grain), dhiki (traditional technique of hulling grain), and ghatta (traditional water mill), which are still popularly used as an integral way of meeting rural livelihood needs. Gender and Energy: Empowerment Model In rural areas of Nepal, energy needs at household level are directly related to women’s workloads and their time. However, the women’s metabolic energy is often made invisible and almost forgotten by the rural energy planners (Clancy, 1998; Cecelski, 1995). For instance, water mills for grinding grain fall under energy sector, whereas women doing the same task with other indigenous technologies do not. Cecelski (2000:36) points out that ‘women are not a special interest group in renewable energy, they are the mainstream users and often producers of energy’. Hence, excluding women from the energy sector not only hampers the women but also hinders the energy project from being successful. It is beyond the scope of this paper to describe empowerment in detail. However, I have made an attempt to link empowerment with socio-economic enhancement of women through AETs, which can address the practical and strategic needs of rural women. I have thus tried to develop an empowerment model which brings together gender and energy issues.
Figure 1: Gender and Rural Energy: An Empowerment Model
Traditional energy technologies
Depletion of biomass resources
Increasing drudgery and deteriorating health of
Active participation and involvement of women
Intervention with Alternative Technologies
Recognition of gender roles and priorities
Figure 2 demonstrates the potential for empowerment of rural women through AETs. Due to the limitations of traditional indigenous technologies, there is a need for interventions, which help to reduce women’s labour and time, which could be used for other productive purposes, and to improve the health conditions of women.
For this purpose, an intervention with AETs is needed. Such intervention should be based on recognition of gender concerns at both macro and micro level in terms of recognising women’s roles and responsibilities and their priorities regarding rural energy, and increasing participation of women from planning to implementation of AETs. The focus should be on reducing expenditure of human energy rather than only saving fuel. Hence, it is very important here to consider both the practical gender
needs that see women supplying the regular energy needs at household level, and the strategic gender needs related to providing opportunities for women to be involved in social and economic activities for their self-enhancement and empowerment. Research Design This research study is of an exploratory nature. Both quantitative and qualitative methods were used for data collection and analysis. A household survey was carried out using standard survey questionnaire; key informant interviews were also conducted using structured, and semi structured checklists. Different methods of participatory research, such as social mapping, focus group discussions, activity profiles, and gender analysis matrix, were used for detailed case study analysis.
compare the two and to see the changes in socio-economic status after having access to alternative energy technologies. I selected Kavre district of Nepal for my research location. It is one of the hill districts lying in the central development region (see Figure 2) of the country. Kavre is one of the first districts where the REDP has made its initial intervention to promote and implement alternative energy technologies in the country. There are 10 districts where the REDP has been implementing rural energy projects. Kavre district was selected in consideration of the fact that the research implications will have a wider application throughout the country, because the features of the mid-hill area are representative of many rural parts of the country as 39 out of 75 districts fall into this category.
Analysis was done in two different areas, one ‘with’ and one ‘without’ a rural energy project implemented by Rural Energy Development Program (REDP)11 in order to
Have Alternative Energy Technologies (AETs) Enabled the Empowerment of Women? I am going to discuss here if AETs have been able to empower rural women mainly in terms of saving their labour, workloads and time enabling them to be involved in other social and economic activities. Four main issues have been focused on: positive and negative implications of AETs on labor, time, resources and culture, change in time and workloads of women, social and economic opportunities, and participation in rural energy projects.
Positive and Negative Implications of AETs AETs have both positive and negative implications for local people especially access to AETs. At the same time, it was also noticed that young boys remained idle listening to the radios and watching televisions after the advent of electricity. There was also some dissatisfaction among women and children in those households who were not able to access electricity. Different tools were used to see the changes and if AETs were really helping towards the empowerment of women.
Table 2: Implications of Biogas Plant and Electricity as Perceived by Men and Women Labour -Need to carry more water +less work for collecting firewood Women’s Group +Less work for cleaning dishes and houses +No need to use kerosene light in every room. -More work for dung collection +Less work for collecting firewood Men’s Group +Less work for cleaning -less time for collecting firewood Time + More time for other work while cooking with biogas -Long time to cook +Wake up early in the morning to work with light + need less time to cook with little quantity +less time in collecting firewood -Less time in washing dishes and house cleaning -High initial investment + Less use of firewood + More knowledge and information through TV Men and Women (Mixed Group) +Less work for collecting firewood +Less work for cleaning -Less time for collecting firewood +Less time in cleaning dishes and house +High initial investment + Less use of firewood +Positive attitude towards village sanitation +Change attitude of men and women +Positive attitude towards village sanitation +Change attitude of men and women Resources -High initial investment +Information from radios and TVs +Less use of firewood -Young boys hanging around TV and radios and reluctant to go to work Culture +Good habit of using toilet -Initially people hesitate to eat the food with biogas cooking because of attached toilet +Change attitude of men and women
+More knowledge and information through TV Source: Field Survey, 2002. (+ indicates positive implications, - indicates negative implications)
Table 2 indicates the positive and negative implications of AETs for men and women. The groups providing information were the electricity and biogas user’s groups. The discussion took place with women’s groups first and then the same discussion was done with men’s groups followed by mixed groups of men and women. The men’s and women’s groups separately showed that the workload of women has been reduced in collecting firewood and cleaning dishes. However, the women find it takes a longer time to cook on biogas stoves for big extended families, which are common in rural areas. It was further reported that women needed to do more work collecting dung and water. In addition, women feel more obligated to wake up early to do additional work by electric light, rather than waiting for sunrise. Both men’s and women’s groups accepted the fact, that there are positive implications for resources in terms of needing less firewood and increasing access to information and news through television and radio, although, there was only a limited number of households (around 3 %) who have television in their houses, and around 18 percent of households that have radio and cassettes. However, the women felt that young boys had become idle because of radio and television. In addition, both men’s and women’s groups explained that they needed to make high investments initially to get the access to the micro
hydropower and biogas plant, though they were beneficial in the long run. Both groups reported that there is a positive implication on local culture in terms of changes in people’s attitudes and habits in using toilets and in keeping high sanitation standards around the houses and the village. There was a change in men’s and women’s attitude towards women’s mobility in and outside the village. The women were not restricted from attending meetings and training sessions, and visiting other people houses to watch television, unlike in the past. A discussion also took place with a mixed group of men and women in order to find out whether the talks would vary from the individual groups. It was found that, in this group the males dominated the discussion though women’s thoughts were also reflected. Change in Time and Workload The time and workloads of women were further analyzed using some qualitative and quantitative measures, such as mean, standard deviation and Analysis of Variance (ANOVA). This was done to see the changes in time and workloads of women in two areas (project and non project areas) and in two different time periods (before and after having access to AETs). Table 3 presents the work burden of women in project and non-project areas.
Table 3: Comparison of Work Burden of Women Work Burden Amount of work Convenience of work Consumption of labour Project Area 1.80 (0.64) 1.18 (0.44) 1.71 (0.58) No Project Area 2.67 (0.51) 2.62 (0.58) 2.68 (0.53) Total 2.17 (0.72) 1.82 (0.87) 2.14 (0.74) Sig .000* .000* .000*
2.69 2.19 .000* Consumption of 1.78 (0.56) (0.77) time (0.67) * refers to the difference between means of two groups is highly significant (p<.0005). Figures in parentheses represent the standard deviations.
The above work burden of women was measured into different scales as presented below. Unit of Scale Work Burden Amount of work Convenience of work Consumption of labour Consumption of time The above table of workloads compares the women’s workloads in project and nonproject areas. The mean score for the amount of work in the project area is close to two (1.80) which means that the workload of women is only average as compared to the non-project area, where the workload is close to three (2.67) which means that their work is heavy. The mean score for convenience of work is close to one in the project area and close to three in the non-project area, which suggests that the women feel their work is easier after having access to AETs, while the women in the non-project area feel their work is difficult. Labour consumption is also close to three (2.68) in the non-project area, whereas it is only average in the project area. Similarly, in the project area, women spend only an average amount of time (1.78) on energy related activities while Light Easy Low Less Average Average Average Average Heavy Difficult High More 1 2 3
more time (2.69) is spent in the non-project area. The given standard deviations explain that there is no high variation within the mean score in both project and non-project areas. The ANOVA test was done to measure the variance in work burdens of women in the project and non-project areas. It shows that there is a highly significant difference between the means of the two groups, since the P value is less than .0005. Overall, the work burden of women in the non-project area was higher compared to the project area. Table 4 presents the average time used for energy activities in different time periods: before and after AETs.
Table 4: Time used for Energy Related Activities Energy related activities Average Time used (in hours) Before After AETs AETs 1.08 (.93) .85 (.79) 4.31 (1.24) .75 (.64) .59 (.58) 1.09 (1.48)
Cooking time per meal Cooking time per snacks Processing grain (30 kg. of grain)
Collecting Firewood per 28.03 24.0 month (23.9) (23.45) Source: Field Survey, 2002. Figures in parenthesis represent the standard deviations. Table 4 shows that the average time spent for energy related activities has reduced as compared to the past. For instance, the average cooking time after using biogas stoves and Improved Cooking Stoves (ICS), has been reduced from 1.08 hours to .75 hours. Similarly, cooking times for morning and afternoon snacks has been reduced from .85 hours to .59 hours. There has been a significant reduction in average processing times, which used to be 4.31 hours (for hulling and grinding 30 kg. of grain). This has come down to 1.09 hours with micro hydro milling, which includes
travel and waiting time as well. The waiting time was mentioned to be very short, because of speedy processing unlike the traditional water mill. The average time for collecting firewood was calculated in a different way, because, the time required for collecting firewood (one bhari) was the same but it varied with the amount of firewood used after having access to biogas stoves and ICS. The above figures represent the average time spent per month for collecting firewood. Since, only around 30 percent of households have access to biogas stoves and ICS, there was not a big change in firewood collection time. In general, there was a reduction in use of firewood especially after use of the biogas stoves. It was mentioned that women go to the forest only occasionally now and the firewood collected from around the field near the house was sufficient after using the biogas stoves. However, the women also found they had more work in caring for livestock such as proper feeding, collecting dung and water. There was a considerable reduction in processing time after having access to the micro hydro mill. .
Opportunities for Socio-Economic Enhancement AETs have provided different kinds of opportunities to men, women and also to the children in terms of having reduced workloads, exposing them to new technology, and allowing more time for study. The local people also felt that they have had opportunities to learn about AETs and development programs and practices inside and outside their village with the awareness program facilitated by REDP. Women spent less time and energy in managing household energy systems. However, an interesting thing is that women never seemed to have free time and were always busy in one or other activities. They had very limited time to be involved in any social and economic activities even after having access to AETs. However, there were in fact no real opportunities available at village level, where women could use their spare time and labour for their selfenhancement and empowerment. The bar chart below (Figure 3) shows the time availability for women for social and economic activities.
Figure 3: Time Available for Social and Economic Activities
project area Percent age of Respondents 50% 40% 30% 20% 10% 0 1 2 3 Hours per day 4 0 1 2 3 4 Hours per day non-project area
In both project and non-project areas, the highest percentages (58% and 46% respectively) of respondents have two hours per day for social and economic activities. Around 24 and 30 percent of respondents in the project area and the non-project area respectively reported that they have no time for any social and economic activities. A few respondents in the project area have 3 to 4 hours for being involved in such activities. There was not much difference between the project and
non-project areas in accessing time for social and economic activities, because in the project area although women have saved time for processing jobs, they were still always busy either in the house or in the farm. During the focus group discussion, a woman mentioned that, Our work is waiting for us, who will let us go to enjoy meetings
and training. (Personal communication, Dec. 2001). Some other women mentioned that they could manage few hours, if they have some opportunities in the village. Only a few women were involved in incense-making, soap-making and vegetable farming in their spare time. There was potential to establish small scale enterprises at the local level such as poultry farming, small bakeries, or dairy products. These activities also required the access to credit, raw materials and marketing network. At present, the AETs were not used to their full potential. For instance, the biogas plant installed in a small number of households was mainly aimed for producing gas for cooking, while neglecting the use of slurry for making a good compost to use in the farm for increasing agricultural production. There were very limited extension services to teach local people especially women to explore the full potential of AETs. Women’s participation in AETs seemed to be more in terms of community mobilisation and saving and credit activities, than in real planning and development of AETs. The women also participated by providing labour during construction of canals. Even though women were well represented in rural energy boards, their involvement in the decision-making process was low. Summary and Conclusions Women felt AETs like electricity and micro hydro mills are very convenient. In general, there was a reduction in human energy of women in processing grain and collecting firewood. However, the women’s energy was used in additional housework than being used for other productive activities. Similarly, the time saved with micro hydro milling was not visible, since they were always occupied with one or other activities at household level. However, women were ready to manage their times, if they can have some opportunities at the village level. They wanted to involve in some income generating and social activities that enable to increase their socio-economic status. The biogas stoves and improved cooking stoves (ICS) were mainly used as a complement to the traditional ones, since they did not fulfill the variety of cooking needs of rural women. The use of electricity was limited to lighting and milling activities.
In some cases, it was only used for lighting. The use of biogas plants has reduced women’s work in collecting firewood and cleaning activities, however, there were some other tasks involved in managing these plants which remained invisible, such as collecting more water and dung, and mixing them properly. These jobs were sometimes shared by the male members of the family as well. Overall, AETs have been able to address the drudgery of rural women by enabling the reduction of the human energy they expend in managing household energy systems. However, AETs are out of the reach of many rural women and have covered a very limited population, since they are still costly for majority of the rural households. In addition, AETs are not integrated with other economic and social activities, on which women could use their saved time and labour, so as to ensure their self-enhancement and empowerment. Acknowledgments The support for this paper from my supervisors, Dr. Barbara Nowak and Dr. Regina Scheyvens, is gratefully acknowledged.
Notes 1 REDP is a project supported from UNDP to implement the alternative energy technologies in different parts of Nepal)
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