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Gender and Energy in South Africa


Khamarunga G. Banda & Sizwe T. Phakathi

Executive Summary

Change has characterised contemporary social economic situation in South Africa since 1994 coming to power of a democratic Africa National Congress (ANC) government. The central driver for this is hinged on reversing the legacy of apartheid whose policies perpetuated inequity. This disadvantaged a segment of society, black people and at the end of the most disadvantaged and marginalized were black women. This historical past has translated in the current geography of poverty in the country that is rural, racial and gendered. 

In 1994, the ANC manifesto policies the RDP, principles were based on reversal of inequitable past through integration and sustainability of all sectors of society. This was complemented by a neo-liberal policy in 1996, the Growth Employment and Redistribution (GEAR). The combination of these two policies has seen the great performance in overall areas of macro-economic stability, fiscal austerity, rates of growth in GDP, investments improvement and declined inflation. 

However, critical challenges persists mainly as regards the following key areas: 

o        Widening income inequality;

o        Slow economic growth rates;

o        Growth in levels of infected and those affected by HIV/Aids

o        High rising unemployment. 

All these concerns have had an impact on intensifying poverty and at the heart of poverty in South Africa is inequity. Were the impact is felt more by women, and particularly black rural women.

Several other policies and programmes are in black. The Gender Framework of 2000, exist that integrates in all government polices and programmes. Yet its translation has had serious setback brought about mainly by lack of capacity in ways of mainstreaming gender especially at local level development agendas. Other poverty reduction polices for both urban and rural development. For example, the integrated Strategy Rural development Strategy (ISRDP) and the Urban Renewal Strategy (URP) to promote service delivery and improve the lives of rural and urban communities.  

One of the great successes of the ANC has been the energisation programme. Providing electrification to 70% of the country. Yet, gender imbalances in South Africa still persist with women as the most marginalized and particularly, black rural women. 

Study Objectives and results 

Emanating from the above concerns, this study examines gender, and gender related factors at household and income generating activity level and to see how decision-making in these two arena’s affect modern energy acquisition in rural communities. Decision-making is seen as one arena that disadvantages women participation in modern energy acquisition. The selected communities for study were in rural Limpopo Province which according to statistic is predominantly female, yet the poorest region in South Africa. Poverty and lack of access to cash income is one of the factors that may suggest there is poverty in many female-headed households. Most households adopt coping strategies in the form of income generating ventures, yet most remain survivalist and extensions of household’s activities. To assist elucidate on these issues the following key hypothesis was used:  

Modern Energy use in higher in households and communities where women are key decision makers than in those where they are not. 

The study examined firstly decision making within the households and also looked modern energy use in income generating activities. The findings for the above hypothesis indicate that rural communities are characterised by the dominance of manufacturing business that is dependent on local resources, mainly dominated by Fuelwood utilisation.  The service are underdeveloped and characterised by a dominance hair saloons, dressmaking and communication centres. Lack of modern energy indeed hampers the expansion of most of the ventures. 

Major Conclusion 

Drawing from the above findings mentioned above, the following draft recommendations were proposed: 

  1. The government and other developmental organisation must recognise and use local women’s groups as a means to supply of modern energy for households and income generation activities.

  1. Options must be provided in other alternative energy services other than electricity.

The aforementioned draft recommendations were filtered through consideration of the following factors:

o        Institutional framework

o        Legal framework

o        Economic and financial framework

o        Human resource and technical capability 

The final recommendations were: 

o    The government and other developmental organisation must recognise and use local women’s groups as a means to supply of modern energy for households and income generation activities. 

o        Options must be provided in other alternative energy services other than electricity. 

With these recommendations it is hoped that by using Local women groups, the options for modern energy will be enhanced at local level and improve overall energy for women at household and for income generating activities in rural South Africa.

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