Accepted paper:

Women's empowerment through electrification: what is (the) evidence?


Tanja Winther (University of Oslo)
Margaret Matinga

Paper short abstract:

The paper reviews the literature on electricity’s gendered impacts in the rural South and develops a framework for analysing women’s empowerment. We find solid documentation for electricity’s positive impact women’s welfare while studies focusing on the impact on gender relations are scarce.

Paper long abstract:

Initiatives are currently taken to provide electricity to the 1.2 billion people world-wide who lack access. Electricity policies tend to be gender neutral; assuming that electrification benefits women and men equally, though there is an emerging interest in promoting women's empowerment through electrification. This paper reviews the empirical literature to establish electricity's impact on women's empowerment in the rural South and some of the underlying causes for electricity's gendered impacts. For this purpose we develop a framework for analysing women's empowerment through electrification. Following Naila Kabeer, we conceive the concept of empowerment in relational terms, and which core aspects include women and men's influence on decision making and control over resources. The results show that access to electricity clearly increases women's welfare by providing an easier life through more choice in organizing the day, reduced drudgery, access to television and mobile phones, shifts in cooking technology away from the open hearth and fuel collection, improved water and health facilities and girls' higher enrolment in school. Television watching in turn reduces high fertility rates. However, the literature on electricity's impact on gender relations is scarce. For example, little is known about how women's reallocation of time affects men's time use or women's social position. There are signs that gender blind electrification interventions reproduce or even reinforce structures of inequality whereas in a few studied cases where women were recruited and put in control of the system of supply, this heightened women's position and balanced discriminating norms.

panel P06
Energy citizenships and prospects for low carbon democracy