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Electric Mobility, Gender, and Justice


Authors: Aditi Khodke

Energy Review, Vol 4. Issue 12. 2022

The world is moving to electric mobility faster than it took internal combustion engine vehicles to become mainstream. Much of the credit for this goes to government programmes that provide incentives for the purchase of electric vehicles and that establish or partner with the private sector to develop the charging infrastructure. Governments see electric mobility as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by switching from fossil fuels to alternative fuels and addressing the exhaust emissions that affect air quality in many cities around the world. From a socio-technical transition perspective, the shift to electric vehicles will require changes in existing standards, rules, regulations and institutions. Such a change is comparable to a regime change in the literature on transition studies. One of the relevant questions is who benefits from the socio-technical change. Although the premise of this question is socio-justice, it forces us to critically examine for who are the co-benefits that climate actions are assumed to hold. And finally, how to create co-benefits for the majority through climate action.

Gender is not the first thing that comes to mind when talking about electric vehicles since technology is often considered gender agnostic. But is it really? In the early 1900s, the Argo company advertised its 1912 electric vehicle model as a woman's car. The limited mileage of these cars was advertised to the advantage of women, who were supposed to drive short distances. There are a handful of cases of women drivers of electric vehicles. But in 2019, a study of electric vehicles in the Nordic countries revealed that electric vehicles have already started to be masculinised, as their sophisticated design, high price range and high speed, especially with Tesla, generate a larger fan base among male customers. The predominance of men in driving electric vehicles is not surprising, but it is part of the wider trend of a male-dominated transport sector.

It could be said that this discussion confuses technological preference by gender with the creation of technology for one gender - to some extent, this is true because the two are deeply embedded in each other. The factor worth noting is why this is happening and what other opportunities there are to make socio-technical transition to electric mobility more inclusive (in terms of gender -- to begin with).

Deliberate actions are possible: the Delhi government has introduced a quota for E-auto licences owned and driven by women, and BluSmart has recruited female driver-partners for its electric fleet. The London Electric Vehicle Company's "break the bias" campaign are some notable examples. The question of who benefits from the transition to electric mobility needs to be asked for each EV project before this rapid transition is locked in, and the issue of inclusion is left for future discussion after electric vehicles become the new norm.

(Ms. Aditi Khodke is a doctoral researcher at the University of Oxford and a Research Fellow with the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies in Japan. Email: ■□■


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