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The Gender Perspective of Renewables and Energy for Rural Development in Zambia


Langiwe Chandi

Executive Summary

National Development cannot be attained without the optimal use and development of all existing resources including human resources. Through out the world, women constitute the majority of the population yet they continue to lag behind in almost all the sectors of the economy. In the quest for development, gender inequalities have been recognised as an impediment to development. Therefore the contribution of each sector to national development cannot be considered in isolation of the human resources available and also the gender relations. Among all these sectors that contribute to economic and social development is the energy sector that is a vital input in all sectors. 

The role of women in the energy sector is very crucial especially in terms of household energy. Biomass for example provides 70% of the energy requirements especially at household level. In most of these countries too the search of energy for domestic use is in the domain of women. Women and children are also the major victims of the adverse effects of energy collection and use. The adverse effects on productivity, health and nutrition of the majority of the population makes the issue of addressing gender concerns in the energy sector an important area. 

In Zambia, women are the majority and they constitute 51% of the population. If women are excluded in the developmental process the implication is that the majority the population has been secluded. Addressing gender imbalances and equity issues is therefore key for attaining sustainable development. Whilst other sectors like education have made major strides in addressing the inherent imbalances, no significant progress has been made in the energy sector. Under this study, efforts are made to address some of the identified gender concerns in the energy sector by identifying possible and feasible policy measures to address them.

This second phase of the study builds up on the first phase, which examined the gender sensitivity of the formulation process of National Energy Policy and that of the actual policy document. The National Gender policy was examined to determine its effectiveness in addressing the gender imbalances in the energy sector. The study also considered whether, the welfare of women and their quality of life played a role in making energy plans. Both hypotheses that were tested were found to be correct. The National Energy Policy and its formulation process were not gender sensitive. The National Gender Policy and the Gender in Development Division who were the custodians of the document cannot adequately address the energy related gender problems. It was also found that there were no special provisions made for women when making energy decisions, society was basically considered homogeneous and therefore the imbalances persist. The recommendations among others include gender sensitisation of the policy document, policy makers, project designers and managers. 

The three hypotheses tested in this report are: 

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

  • Modern energy use is higher in households where women are key decision makers than in those where they are not.

  • The Provision of modern energy to rural areas enhances the chances of women engaging in income-generating activities.

The study methodology involved small surveys and case studies due to the unavailability of published data. The first and second hypothesis, tested whether the ability (power) of women to make decision at household and enterprise level affects their impact on energy choice. The targets were female –headed that were previously under male -headed households and their energy use patterns before and after were studied.  The other approaches were to target women from matrilineal societies which entails that they are decision makers. As a control women whose husbands worked away from home were also studied. The area of the study was Eastern Province, where matrilineal societies reside.  It must be stated that due to time and financial constraints, the sample selected was small. 

Of the twenty households, 12 of the households used firewood for cooking and kerosene for lighting.  

Of the 20 households covered,2 households were using solar energy for lighting and they used kerosene stoves for cooking. Six of the households used grid electricity for lighting and powering their appliances. Three of these households also used electricity for cooking, two used kerosene stoves for cooking while one used charcoal for cooking. 

With the high level of intermarriages, the distinction between matrilineal ethnic groups and patriarchal ones is not so evident anymore. Rather the level of education, disposable income and assertiveness had a role to play for women who were using modern energy services. Where the women had a low disposable income switching to modern energy was not a priority because it was considered costly and a luxury. Survival was merely centred on getting the next meal.  

The assets that were deemed to be of high priority were radios, bicycles and hammer mills. When asked what they would use for energy they indicated that they made money in small quantities and would buy battery cells or kerosene when the money was available. Other items of priority were school fees especially for those who had children in higher education. In other instances wood fuel was considered God’s free gift and there was reluctance to pay for energy when energy in the form of firewood is virtually free. The cost of environmental degradation and the time spent of searching for firewood was obviously not calculated.  

Those connected to the solar home systems owned groceries were part time farmers and also held civil service jobs. They did not own the systems but merely paid a connection fee and monthly tariff to the Chipata Energy Service Company. The households that used electricity were also those of people in gainful employment. Those connected to the electricity grid mostly lived in council houses and are involved in other income-generating activities apart from farming. 

The conclusion therefore is that while women who are independent are able to make their own choices, moving up the energy ladder is however not a priority because of the limited disposable income with various competing interests such as food, agricultural inputs, clothing and school fees. If the women are not educated on the financial implications of the environmental degradation and time spent on collecting firewood it may be considered a free good and this can retard development. 

Most of the women in the very remote areas did seem to know much about solar energy. It is important that awareness levels are increased especially that the next phase of the ESCO projects entails installing 150 solar home systems in Chipata. Since Agriculture is the major source of livelihood, women need to mobilise themselves to strengthen their credit rating and also create their own revolving credit fund that can be used for purchasing energy technologies. 

Since the ethnic distinctions and independence in determining the use of income do not necessarily entail that women will move up the energy ladder, the following policy options are recommended: 

  • Gender sensitisation of both men and women at community level on the importance of the optimal involvement of both sexes in economic activities.

  • Women should be encouraged to form cooperatives or join cooperatives to strengthen their credit rating.

  • Women should be encouraged to develop their own revolving credit that can be utilised to purchase modern energy technologies.

  • Ensure more women benefit from the ESCO pilot project or similar schemes that offer affordable services.

  • Electricity providers e.g. the national utility should be encouraged to provide energy at concession fees as was the case under the Pamodzi Low Cost Electrification Project.

  • The Women’s awareness levels on alternative energy sources and the benefits of moving up the energy ladders where feasible should be increased under environmental management programmes.

  • The replacement of traditional energy with modern energy should be pursued through donor programmes that support clean energy.

  • The Ministry of Energy and Water Development should liase with other sectors to promote the incorporation of provision of energy in other development programmes.

In order to test the third stated hypothesis, field surveys had to be undertaken to compare the turnover between enterprises in electrified and non-electrified areas. The change in income-generating activities after provision of modern energy services was observed. The preliminary results indicate that provision of modern energy services does enhance the level of income-generating activities in size, level and turnover for both men and women. During the study the danger of considering women as one homogenous group was noted as the financial status e.g. access to financial support played a major role in women engaging in income-generating activities. The nature of the products i.e. precious minerals and quarrying fetched a lot of money regardless of the form of energy. It would therefore be prudent to conclude that provision of modern energy services do enhance the chances of women engaging in income-generating activities especially for those economically empowered ones. 

Having analysed the problem, draft recommendations were devised and consequently subjected to a filter to arrive at the final recommendations. The final recommendations are as follows: 

  • Provide fiscal incentives to micro financing Institutions that lend to women alongside introduction of modern energy.

  • Promote Low cost electrification schemes packaged with electronic appliances like the Pamodzi Electrification Scheme

  • Provide fiscal incentives for Rural Energy Enterprises

  • Adopt affirmative action to address gender specific imbalances in the energy sector.

With these recommendations, it is envisaged that women have a higher chance of being empowered to engage in income-generating activities and use energy in a sustainable manner. 

It is also envisaged that affordable energy services can be provided and that the women can also try to create their own funds and improve their credit worthiness to access energy services. For those that can afford to switch to modern energy but are lacking in knowledge or do not have any motivation to do so awareness programmes on benefits of switching can assist them to consider switching if not now at least in the future.

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