Conducted in India (Koraput District of Odisha) and Nepal (Kailali District) in 2015, the scoping study was based on the premise that it is necessary to include gender concerns in the political economy of energy access. There is a gendered form of power that is not captured in the conventional analysis of political economy, which sees women subsumed in the class/race/caste analysis. Male power in gender relations is rooted in the ownership of productive resources and in informal social and cultural norms that dictate women’s responsibility for household work/caring. At a higher level these are manifested in the exclusion of social reproduction from recognized work for macro policy formulation. This gendering of political economy combines an analysis of both structural and agential power allowing for its application to problem-solving in the field of modern energy technologies.

The following research methods were adopted in collecting data and other relevant information: an extensive review of the research work done in the theme supplemented; review of energy policies; interviews with government agencies at the State and District levels; discussions with the private sector, energy suppliers, individuals in key positions (bankers and local leaders), and focus-group discussions with SHGs and SCGs.

Discussed were three major issues: how formal/informal control is exercised on women’s use of clean energy in cooking, agriculture and industries; response of government agencies in women’s access to clean energy as fundamental to well-being; and influence of social/gender norms in households, communities, markets, and State structures of energy-governance.

Key Findings

Macro Level Efforts in Reaching Clean Cooking Fuel:

  • Compared to electricity access, the rural-urban gap in cooking energy access is relatively high. The policy focuses is on providing electricity to households in rural areas, but not clean cooking fuel. Schemes for spreading the use of improved cook stoves are in place but not as extensive as providing electricity

  • The Odisha Government has a scheme supplying LPG in four districts. The coastal districts of Odisha use dried animal dung for cooking thereby exposing its women and children to the health hazards of indoor air pollution. Kailali district benefits from domestic energy schemes and is noted for their special clean energy-based activities, improved cook stoves, and biogas village

Energy Use for Productive Purposes and its Impact on Domestic Energy Use

  • In both research sites, mechanization of agricultural tasks, using diesel of electricity, clearly spells reduction in manual/animal labour. Mechanization results to a decrease in the farmer’s requirement for cattle as manual power which in turn reduce the availability of animal dung to power bio-gas plants.

  • In Kailali and Koraput, households have shifted to buying, rather than collecting, wood for cooking. This led to the rise of households collecting and selling wood.

  • When wood is purchased, rather than collected, money calculations come into the picture. Where LPG is relatively cheap, there could be a shift from fuel wood, which costs more per month, to LPG. In Nepal, LPG is quite expensive (double the cost of a cylinder compared to the price in India), therefore there nobody wants to shift to LPG. Bio-gas is their alternative to wood.

  • Access to forests, to collect wood is being restricted. It was observed that women (and sometimes men) collect wood from distant forests resulting to pressures to economize on the use of women’s time in social reproduction which could lead to a change in fuel use from labour-intensive fuel (i.e. wood) to labour-saving fuel (i.e. LPG.)

Women’s Wage Employment

  • There is a growing demand for women’s labour in various production activities, not only agricultural tasks (other than ploughing) but also management of the household farm.

  • In Koraput, women who have take up new economic activities such as trading vegetables or processing tamarind. Though not substantive, these new economic activities leads to an overall labour shortage. Women’s groups (SHGs or SCGs) play a key role in expanding women’s agential power both in the community and the household by allowing access to credit and supporting changes in gender norms by using women’s collective power. In India, women’s SHGs are helping women overcome problems in accessing credit to start or expand small businesses. A new form of collateral-based credit is brought into play which enables women to overcome the limitation of not holding a title of any assets which could be used as collateral.

  • Women’s groups help in changing existing social norms about who takes household decisions on energy use. Individually, women do not assert their decision-making rights but as a group, women’s entry in areas of production, group-induced or supported changes in social norms could occur. This has been observed in many other studies in various contexts (NABARD and GIZ, 2015; IDFC Rural Development Network, 2013).

  • Women’s agential power also comes through women’s higher participation in economic activities which leads to increased demands on women’s time. Aspirations play a part in driving changes in fuel use. Aspirations are fuelled by the spread of information and communication technologies (ICTs), the mobile phone and television.

Household Energy Use

  • Multiple energy systems are observed in use by households in both countries. Households have electricity for lighting, kerosene also for lighting, wood, LPG, or bio-gas for cooking, leading to fuel stacking. Even while using of wood, there could be both improved cook stoves (ICS) and traditional wood-guzzling stoves, the latter for bulk use, such as in preparing food for animals. However, such multiple systems of energy are mainly seen in the case of the better-off households.

Status of Interventions Aimed at Promoting Clean Energy Use

  • There have been many failures in schemes for improved stoves or clean fuels. The ICS often do not make much difference to the time saved (about 10% we were told, which is not such a big saving). Some of the ICS even required more time for preparing even-sized wood pieces, which cancelled any decrease in cooking time. In addition, it is observed that schemes failed after the initial period because of lack of repair and related technical facilities. In LPG subsidies, there were failures after the initial subsidy period – in those villages where women were not much involved in production activities, and successful where they were so involved, as in spice production-cum-tourism (World Bank, 2002).

  • Three tentative conclusions from the ICS and LPG-subsidy experiences: (1) the saving in women’s time in cooking (including that spend on collecting and preparing fuel wood) needs to be high in order for the change to be appreciated by women; (2) there must be a sufficient volume of use of the new apparatus so that sustainable supply chains, including repair facilities, are set up; and (3) subsidies in fuel equipment can be successful in the sense of bringing about a sustained change in fuel use, where the subsidies are combined with women’s greater involvement in production or implemented in areas where women are already highly involved in income-earning production, so as to create pressures on women’s time use. An interesting point from Nepal is that men’s migration increase pressure on women’s time, nudging women in the direction of finding ways of reducing time spent on social reproduction activities and enabling them to create spaces to express their autonomy both in production decisions and the use of income.

  • Off-grid solutions have not worked well. One attempted solution in providing electricity in remote areas, instead of grid extension, has been to provide off-grid solutions, e.g. gasifiers for converting biomass into electricity. The investigation of one such attempt in Koraput, Odisha, revealed that the system stopped functioning after a couple of years, as there was no system for provision of maintenance or spares. The EnPoGen study of rural China reports a similar failure of photovoltaic home systems, which the authors understand to be the result not so much of remoteness as such, but the failure to provide the required system for spares and service (Lucas et al. 2003).

Proposal for Phase Two

Empirical investigation to be improved in Phase Two by adding additional case study location for comparison. The study sites would be differentiated by extent of remoteness. This would give some basis for comparison of gender and energy interaction in the context of economies with lesser or greater demands on women’s time for production. For phase Two, the case study sites in India are Koraput and Mayurbanj in Odisha, Wayanad in Kerala, and Dindigul in Tamil Nadu. In Nepal, the four regions to be considered include the foot-hills (Terai), mid-hills, mountains, and the Kathmandu Valley. In addition, the empirical investigation in Phase Two is designed to pay more attention to macro and meso level decisions and processes and their interaction with the micro-level in producing gender sensitive outcomes in energy use.