Gender Inclusion in the Energy Policies: What Are We Missing?

Gender Inclusion in the Energy Policies: What Are We Missing?


Mini Govindan and Rashmi Murali

Access to energy is regarded as fundamental to human well-being and a critical pathway for improving gender equality and social inclusion. There is a growing recognition of the interlinkages between gender and energy - both the life-enhancing aspects, as well as the disproportionate effects of the lack of it on both women and men. There is ample global evidence to validate the positive impact of access to adequate and reliable energy on people’s lives, particularly on women through reduced drudgery, decreased poverty, increased income, and enhanced livelihood opportunities. It also contributes to quality public services - water supply, health, education and access to information and communication. Energy poverty, however, affects women adversely, particularly rural women, by inducing drudgery of collecting firewood and water, doing household chores without adequate light or modern appliances, and issues related to safety and mobility, among others.

Gender, however, in energy policies and projects has been conspicuously limited. Historically energy policies have been “gender-blind”, devoid of recognizing the differentiated impacts of energy (or the lack of it) on gender. (IUCN, 2017) reviewed 192 national energy frameworks and reported that only a third of them included any references to women and/or gender. In India, the policy focus on universal electrification continues to emphasize expanding “last-mile” energy delivery- to the poorest segments of the population. The welfare objectives of the policies assume the intended benefits will trickle down to all irrespective of gender.

This predominantly gender-blind approach towards energy policies have been often attributed to lack of significant empirical evidence/studies that highlight the merit of including gender in the energy policies. The situation is further exacerbated by the non-availability of gender-disaggregated data on access and participation of women in decision-making bodies and processes to establish empowerment linkages. Further, policies are often found to be supply driven, with a top-down approach, rather than being designed based on demand, especially by women and the marginalized. TERI – a well-known think tank’s experiences reveal that scope for participation of women in large centralized energy projects is limited - a plausible result of limited efforts by implementers or suppliers to prioritize opinions of women in the villages.

While a well-structured gender mainstreaming framework remains largely absent in the energy policy domain, unfortunately the few attempts to address gender inclusivity in some of the policy provisions also go unnoticed. Initiatives like the Sustainable Energy for All (2001), and SDGs 5 and 7, clearly recognize the need for addressing gender inequalities and advancing women’s empowerment towards achieving the goal of universal access to modern energy. (Govindan, et al., 2020) has elaborated on how gender has been characterized in some of the energy policies over the years in India. The study highlighted how the Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana (RGGVY), a large-scale village electrification programme launched in 2005, made provisions for women-led self-help groups to take up electricity related franchises. The Rural Electrification Policy (2006) further encouraged women’s participation in rural electrification and mandated their representation in district electricity committees. The Saubhagya scheme (2017), for universal household electrification also made provisions for women-headed households to receive electricity connections. The latest flagship initiative, the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY, 2017), is the most gender-targeted energy programme, wherein free LPG connections are provided in the name of women members of the household.

The problem, hence, does not entirely rest on the non-inclusion of gender elements in policy making, rather its conversion into gender-responsive outcomes and impacts. Given the distinct knowledge gap, it warrants further research. For instance, there have been no studies that documented the performance of women-led franchises, among the sparsely successful franchise model of RGGVY. Likewise, there are no gender empowerment outcomes reported from Saubhagya, reinforcing the limited scope for gender empowerment in supply-driven schemes, despite attempts at mainstreaming. Even with a largely women-centric PMUY, there is limited evidence on the multidimensional concept of ‘empowerment of women’. The emphasis on mainstreaming has primarily been on providing affordable and secure access to clean cooking fuel with an aim to safeguard health. Limited evidence, thus, diminishes the scope of emulating good practices or learning from missed opportunities, thus constraining the chances of leapfrogging in broadening the horizons of gender mainstreaming.

It is apparent that even well-structured gender-inclusion programmes fail in converting the gender elements or mainstreaming provisions into effective results on the ground. Translating policy to practice requires a robust mechanism to monitor implementation, investment, track progress on gendered targets and their expected outcomes, document opportunities and challenges and formalize processes where these aspects can be ploughed back into the policy making regime.

Indeed, it is time for the development community to enhance the processes that translate gender inclusive objectives into results than merely advocating for more gender-responsive policies.

Mini Govindan is a Fellow at The Energy and Resources Institute and Rashmi Murali is a Research Associate at The Energy and Resources Institute, New Delhi.