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Women and Modern Energy: The Case of Rural Botswana


Nozipho Ditlhale & Matthew Wright


Botswana society is mainly patriarchal and this has contributed to women being left behind in terms of development when compared to their male counterparts. While the government is committed to the principle of tackling gender inequalities, in practice they still exist in key areas. Laws, derived mainly from the Roman Dutch legal system, can reduce women to the state of minors under their fathersí or husbandsí care. The impact of this can be seen in property acquisition, capacity to raise finance to operate a business, ownership of assets, etc. It seems no coincidence that women are also most seriously affected by poverty, although other factors also contribute to this situation. These inequalities trickle down to household operations and can impact negatively on issues such as modern energy acquisition and use.

The low level of participation of women in the energy policy and planning for the long term works against them. It means that their energy needs do not reach the planning level when policy is being formulated. It also impacts on the projects and programmes that the government implements which are meant to benefit the poor, who are predominantly in FHHs. The top management at Energy Affairs Division, the body that is responsible for energy policy formulation and implementation, are male.

The purpose of the study is to investigate gender related factors that influence energy acquisition decisions for both households and businesses. To investigate the issue in more detail, the following hypotheses were assigned for investigation:

H1: Modern energy use is higher in households and communities where women are key decision makers than in those where they are not.

H2: Modern energy use is higher in rural enterprises where women are key decision makers than in those where they are not.

H3: Provision of modern energy to rural areas will enhance the chances of women engaging in income generating activities.

Qualitatively, the disadvantaged position of women is clear. However, relevant quantitative, micro data to support this appears to be missing. Information is generally collected at the household level. While there is a presumption that household heads will be responsible for making key decisions, including the choice of energy option, this does not deal with questions of intra-household distribution.

For H1 to be supported there must be clear indications that when men have decision-making powers within the household they tend to exploit, to a greater extent than female decision makers, the potential for free labour from other household members in preference to the financial expense of acquiring and using modern energy sources. Examination of the data revealed the following:

1. Household income is the most important determinant of energy choice: those that chose modern energy were generally on higher cash incomes.

2. There is some support for H1. In particular, it seems that there is a significantly greater tendency among FHHs to utilize modern energy once their much lower average income levels are taken into account. This is further supported by information on acquisition of traditional energy where FHHs are more likely to pay for fuelwood.

3. There are several qualifications to this general conclusion. Unrecorded, non-cash sources of income may affect FHHs households most. The slightly smaller size of FHHs will, to the extent it reduces the household labour supply, encourage substitution of modern energy. More generally, the quality of the data may be questioned in some instances.

4. Information concerning decision making delegated to women in male-headed households is ambiguous.

The preliminary investigation of H2 suggested that it was flawed in essential respects. In particular it seemed at odds with basic considerations of rational behaviour, a conclusion that was supported by an initial data review.

The major conclusion for H3 was that women do participate in income generating activities if modern energy is provided in their area. This is evidenced by the number of women in Letlhakeng village who run or own businesses which make use of e.g. electricity, as compared to their male counterparts. However, it could not be simply concluded that such energy provision was by itself sufficient to significantly enhance income-generating opportunities.

The following recommendations are made:

1. Energy Affairs Division (EAD) does not seem to be aware that gender inequalities can be counter-productive in their goal to provide energy to all citizens. They need to be encouraged to look into providing favourable conditions in their projects and programmes for poor FHHs in the rural areas to acquire modern energy. Hence the need to mainstream gender in energy policy and planning, as a means to ensure that womenís energy needs are taken into consideration when implementing national energy programmes and projects.

2. The government should consider providing households with incentives to encourage them to switch to modern and efficient forms of energy whether for the household or for income generating activities. This might prove to be effective in the context of on going efforts to identify ways to alleviate poverty in Botswana. FHHs are worst hit by poverty, so targeting them with development programmes can only lead to a better quality of life and sustainable development, especially in the rural areas.

3. Non Governmental Organisations such as YWCA could help in providing business training for disadvantaged women to help them improve their business or to start new ones. Provision of modern energy alone cannot encourage women to become involved in income generating activities. They need start up loans as well as skills to run and sustain businesses.

However the tentative nature of these recommendations should be stressed, as the research proved inconclusive in some important areas, given the data that was available for the study. This in turn underlines the need to improve data collection activities and undertake further research.

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