The Diversity Blog

“Studies evidence positive correlation between energy access and women’s economic empowerment… this is still not considered as one of the big levers for women’s economic empowerment”.

Vibhuti Garg is an Energy Economist, Lead India at IEEFA. She has over 16 years of experience in the sector. Her work includes promoting sustainable development through influencing policy intervention on energy pricing, subsidy reforms, enhanced access to clean energy, capital and private participation in various areas of the energy sector. 
Vibhuti’s work includes providing decarbonization pathways, including its impact on environment, air pollution, jobs; promoting clean energy solutions for the agriculture sector by adopting water-energy-food nexus approach; enhancing national and international understanding of India’s progress; and helping inform governments and financial institutions globally about the pace and opportunities of reforms in India.

 

Praveen Gupta: Analysis of country-level data shows that the greater the proportion of a country’s population that has access to electricity, the greater its gender equality?

Vibhuti Garg: Absolutely, with greater access to electricity, more women are able to free their time from general household chores and divert their time on income generating opportunities, which make them more empowered. They have a voice in pushing for their child education especially girls, use more sustainable energy choices, energy efficient appliances etc. which in turn has a positive impact on their income and productivity.

For example, many women in small towns are now selling solar lamps and solar house systems which enhance energy access but also create opportunities for them to become entrepreneurs.

With greater access to electricity, more women are able to free their time from general household chores and divert their time on income generating opportunities, which make them more empowered. They have a voice in pushing for their child education especially girls

Also, it allows more girls to undertake education and be part of the formal workforce. Women feel more protected with improved street lighting in their areas. Further, in some households shifting to electric cooking will also save them the time and hard work of collecting biomass, cow dung, wood pellets for cooking. It will also have positive impact on their health as they will not be exposed to indoor pollution using traditional fuels which are polluting.

PG: What are the challenges for women to participate in the active workforce?

VG: It needs to be noted that women participation is ~20% of the workforce. Most of the micro enterprises set up by the women are self-financed, which makes them more vulnerable. A lot more supportive ecosystem needs to be created for them to thrive and have better livelihood opportunities.

There are limitations for women to relocate in search of livelihood. They do not have finance for upfront payment to start business. Lack of awareness and required skillsets impact their confidence to engage in income generating opportunities.

By imparting them education, required skills, providing energy access, and more importantly financial inclusion – the biggest challenges would get addressed.

 PG: Women and girls are often disproportionately responsible for household duties – particularly in rural settings – where they spend considerable time on collecting firewood for basic cooking, heating, and lighting needs?

VG: Women account for just 22-25% of total employees in the power sector, and a low proportion work in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) roles. It has been demonstrated that a lack of gender equality in the energy sector puts utilities at a disadvantage, boards with at least 30% women have higher profit margins than those that do not. It has also been suggested that energy sector organisations that improved gender equality can boost innovation.

Energy access would allow reduced time burden for women on activities like cooking, heating etc. A better use of their time and skills will allow them to be part of earning members of the family.

Women in rural India are now getting opportunities in high earning jobs, because of improved energy access they will have more options. Solar Sahelis in Rajasthan is a classic example of how women have turned entrepreneurs. They rope in more women to their network, demonstrate improved sales and after sales services. By participating in income generating activities, their welfare and both physical as well as mental wellbeing has improved.

Solar Sahelis in Rajasthan is a classic example of how women have turned entrepreneurs. They rope in more women to their network, demonstrate improved sales and after sales services. By participating in income generating activities, their welfare and both physical as well as mental wellbeing has improved.

PG: Studies demonstrate that improved access to electricity improves baseline living conditions for women?

VG: Studies evidence positive correlation between energy access and women’s economic empowerment. However, this is still not considered as one of the big levers for women’s economic empowerment and thus has not got the due which it should be given.

As highlighted above women can use their time more productively and in income generating activities. Young women can invest their income to education and skill development. They will be financially more independent and able to raise their voice and put their demands forward.

In order to empower women from low-income communities, an initiative called Project Vahini, which involved promoting female ownership of e-rickshaws by addressing the challenges around access to affordable finance, infrastructure, awareness etc. This project can be scaled up as it provided lot of job opportunities for women by creating women micro-entrepreneurs in last mile transportation. We also have big taxi aggregators like OLA with ‘By Women, For Women’ taxi service.

PG: Firewood as a dominant source of energy – triggers deforestation?

VG: It is criminal to cut trees to use as a fuel for energy demands. Climate risk is one of the biggest risk impacting mankind. Efforts should be directed towards afforestation and use of clean energy to meet cooking and electricity needs.

There is a large renewable energy potential in our country which should be exploited. The health costs of burning fossil fuels or using firewood is much higher than using renewable energy. These fossil fuels are subsidized or come at no cost to people. However, the indoor and outdoor air pollution they cause is a big price in terms of high mortality and morbidity rates. A comparison of the health costs vs renewable energy costs, renewable energy wins big.

It is criminal to cut trees to use as a fuel for energy demands. Climate risk is one of the biggest risk impacting mankind. Efforts should be directed towards afforestation and use of clean energy to meet cooking and electricity needs.

PG: Volatility of gas pricing makes the dependent population vulnerable? Is solar the long-term answer?

VG: India relies heavily on gas imports. Price volatility of gas has exposed the vulnerability of nations relying on such expensive fuels. In recent times, gas prices have been extremely volatile, reaching unprecedented lows in 2020 and all-time highs in 2021. Japan Korea Marker (JKM), considered a benchmark for spot Asian LNG prices, went from US$2 in April 2020 to US$30 in September 2021 due to the onset of Covid-19 and post-lockdown economic recovery, respectively.

Volatile fuel prices can raise the operating costs of downstream projects in the industrial, power and CGD sectors – harming product competitiveness, utilisation rates and returns on investment.

The government should reduce reliance on gas and increasingly start replacing it with renewable energy. In urban areas where the electricity load is relatively stable, there should be increased effort to switch to electricity. India would eventually have to move to electric cooking and mobility to achieve the target of 450 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy by 2030, so leapfrogging now would be a more pragmatic long-term strategy.

PG: Do you see opportunities to directly employ women in the electricity sector along the entire value chain?

VG: Yes, women after acquiring the required skill sets can do lot of jobs including billing, collection, also for decentralized renewable energy generation. They can be entrepreneurs as well responsible for sales, revenues and providing after sales services.

An initiative called Promotion of Women in Energy Related Enterprises for Development (POWERED), a first if its kind accelerator programme supporting female led ventures across the energy value chain, has led to creation of 3,700 jobs for women, 260 women supported to set up micro enterprises and 22 women-led energy startups.

Women can also promote solar pumps in farming. This will help in enhancing income and improved productivity but also at the same time improve water conservation and prevent use of harmful diesel for meeting their irrigation requirements.

PG: Many thanks Vibhuti for sharing these insights. Best wishes in all your ongoing endeavours at such a critical juncture.