The Gender Factor in Political Economy of Energy Sector Dynamics
The project is aiming to understand and study 'How can women in rural areas be empowered to gain access to modern energy services in both production and social reproduction?. In answering this question we attempt to demonstrate that a gendering of political economy makes a difference to our understanding of women's agency in energy use.
In most emerging and developing countries, including India and Nepal, large numbers of women suffer from income and energy insecurity and poverty (Kelkar and Nathan, 2005 ; ENERGIA, 2015 ). The situation is much worse in remote areas, such as Koraput in Odisha, India, and Dhading (mountains) in Nepal; it is somewhat better in the better-connected Wayanad district in Kerala, India, and Kailali and Kavre (hills), Nepal; and much better in the well-connected Dindigul district in Tamil Nadu, India and Rupendehi in Nepal.
In developing economies there is a rural-urban gap in modern energy (electricity and LPG) access. This gap is greater for LPG than it is for electricity. In India in 2011 there was a rural-urban gap of 28% points for electricity as the main source of household lighting – 94% of urban households and 66% of rural households used electricity as the main source of household lighting. But the gap in the case of modern cooking fuel use is much greater at 58% points – 71% of urban households and only 13% of rural households used modern, non-solid fuel (mainly LPG but also including biogas) as the primary cooking fuel (NSSO, 2011 ; Rehman et al., 2012 ). In Nepal, the electricity gap is 56.7 percentage points, with rural access being 34% as against 89.7% for urban access. The gap in modern cooking fuel use is not very different at 52.5 percentage points, with just 7.3% in rural areas as against 59.8% in urban areas (UNDP and WHO, 2009 ).
In this context of the poor access to modern energy (electricity and LPG) afforded to women in rural areas, particularly those in remote areas, the overall research objective is to understand the factors that constrain or facilitate women's agency in the use of energy in the social reproduction and production spheres, leading to gender sensitivity in energy policies and women's empowerment in energy transitions.
Remoteness here refers to the absence of all-weather connections to daily, urban and export markets, which go along with poverty and poor energy infrastructure and overall poor human development indicators. Our research sites in the two countries have been selected to represent gendered access to energy in a diversity of conditions of remoteness and economic development.
In India the selected study sites are two remote districts, Koraput and Mayurbhanj districts of Odisha; while the moderately remote district is Wayanad district of Kerala. All three of them are in hill-forest locations, but connectivity in Koraput and Mayurbhanj is poor, while Wayanad is well-connected in the state of Kerala with the highest per capita consumption in India. In addition to cultivation of rice, Wayanad has a higher market-based development of coffee, tea and spice cultivation in small farms. Women are substantially involved in farming and processing activities of these crops through a large part of the year. With a high level of literacy and educational attainment, the state also has a network of people's science organizations and farmer facilitation technical centres (Kannan, 2015 ). Women, throughout the district and state are organized in women's groups under the state-supported Kudumbshree programme, also implementing a number of government programmes, such as the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Programme. In order to provide additional contrast in women's time demand and fuel use, we will also study a well-connected village in Dindigul district of Tamil Nadu. This district has a high level of commercial development with high labour force participation of women. Electricity access is universal and LPG use is high. This will provide a useful contrast to women's fuel use in remote and less remote areas. In Nepal, the remote region is Dhading district, which is poorly connected with the Kathmandu Valley. Moderately remote Kavre (hill areas) and Kailali district (Terai) have reasonable all-weather connections with main markets, but high transport costs. Kailali district is on the border with India and is well-connected with it economically. The contrast in Nepal will be provided by a village in the tourism circuit in Rupandehi district, which is well-connected with major markets.
The conventional analysis of poor energy access of women in rural areas, particularly remote areas, points to (1) the high costs involved in reaching remote areas; and (2) the low political importance, leading to low access to the realms of power, of both remote areas, and women therein in energy policy and practice. In addition there is a neglect of the use of energy by women in the sphere of social reproduction. While a transformation of cooking energy is important, this project seeks to contribute to our knowledge of energy use by combining the analysis of the social reproduction (domestic cooking and care) and production spheres (agriculture, and enterprises) and their interactions in producing gender outcomes in energy use.