Accepted paper:

Opening and closing doors: gender and caste in off-grid India


Kirsten Campbell (University of Edinburgh)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores the impact of community level socio-political hierarchies in dictating the abilities for women and girls to exploit off-grid energy projects for productive uses. This is based on ethnographic fieldwork in rural east India, at the site of one of India's first "smart" micro-grids.

Paper long abstract:

Drawing from extended ethnographic fieldwork in eastern India, this paper explores the socio-politics around community scale micro-grids. It presents a case study of one of India's first "smart" solar micro-grids to explore how socio-political hierarchies of gender and caste (and their intersections) interact with energy systems on a community level. It analyses how existing wider social structures, which often marginalise and oppress women and girls, can be mapped onto patterns of control and usage of distributed electricity projects, thereby replicating and reinforcing existing patterns of disempowerment. The paper will present the ways in which this can prevent women, and other marginalised social groupings, from exploiting productive opportunities associated with energy projects. In the case study to be presented, the key aim was for households and individuals across the community to be able to utilise the micro-grid for increased economic opportunity. This paper will interrogate some of the design and implementation practises that compromised the potential for women to make use of the micro-grid. This paper will also explore the intersectional aspects of gender and community identity and their relation to productive use of energy, by which the experience of women is not a single, universal experience. This case study focuses on off-grid, community scale energy interventions. However, the outputs from it, in terms of understanding the nuance of existing social structure and anticipating how energy projects will reinforce these structures, are crucial to understanding how energy projects can be better leveraged to deliver equitable opportunities for women and marginalised users.

panel E09
Gender Inequalities in South Asia