4 Approaches for More Inclusive Energy in South Asia

An Indian woman weaving silk with a powerloom in Assam.
An Indian woman weaving silk with a powerloom in Assam.

By Francesco Tornieri

Here are a few messages from our partners in the conference.

The Subregional Conference on Inclusive Energy Solutions kicked off today in Jaipur, India, with the goal of searching for new ways to achieve gender equality and social inclusiveness in the energy sector in South Asia. Below are a few messages from our partners on how to achieve gender- and socially inclusive access to energy in the region.

Sheila Oparaocha. International Coordinator and Program Manager, ENERGIA

The International Energy Agency predicts that by 2030, more than 2.7 billion people will still rely on traditional fuels for their energy needs—mainly in Africa and Asia—and over one billion people will still lack access to reliable electricity. The sections of population that are currently left without energy access are families living in mostly remote, rural locations, who spend $37 billion on poor-quality energy solutions to meet their energy needs. ENERGIA, its partners and other organizations are demonstrating that women, local networks and community based organizations can be instrumental in getting energy access to these largely untapped markets and reaching the proverbial ‘last mile,’ and that businesses can indeed be built in low-income markets. Local SMEs, social enterprises, NGOs and conglomerates are succeeding in selling modern lighting and cooking devices, off-grid electrification solutions, and, to a smaller degree, grid extension services to the poor. In particular, gender-informed energy access business models have proven to be the most effective approach, especially those that leverage the role of women in the promotion, sale, servicing, and financing of household energy devices. What is needed for them to succeed is capacity building and mentoring support, financial intermediation to make available start-up and working capital, marketing strategies. 

Reihana Mohideen, ADB Energy Infrastructure and Gender Consultant; Assistant Dean for Diversity and Inclusion, School of Engineering, University of Melbourne, Australia

Women face many challenges in participating and benefiting from energy sector development. The challenges are socio-economic and technological. Energy use is valuable not in itself, but for what it enables women and men to do or achieve. The commonly used measures of energy—be it installed capacity, conversion efficiencies or per capita utilization levels—are just helpful indicators of the performance and dynamics of processes whose aim is to benefit ordinary women and men, and achieve inclusive development. This is what the conference aims to highlight. Energy systems and their societal contexts and impacts are complex and non-linear. The job of engineers is to constantly interact with and negotiate this linear, non-linear systems divide. It’s through such an interaction that real-life engineering problems are solved. This necessitates that gender and social inclusion is also included in the equation to finding engineering solutions to energy sector development. Since 2011, the University of Melbourne School of Engineering has undertaken studies on energy systems and their social and gender implications. The university is currently partnering with the ADB on a study on ‘gender friendly’ energy technologies. We welcome the opportunity to participate in this important conference on applications in this space. 

Rebecca Tavares. Representative, UN Women Office for India, Bhutan, Maldives and Sri Lanka

Women and girls make up more than half the world’s population and are more deeply impacted than men and boys by poverty, climate change, food insecurity, lack of health care, and global economic crises. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted by UN member states in 2015, sent a clear and unequivocal message to governments, civil society and the private sector: women’s contributions and leadership are central to finding a solution to global development challenges. The SDGs include a standalone goal (SDG 5) on gender equality, and gender concerns are integrated across all the other goals. Progress on gender equality and women’s contributions are also critical to the achievement of SDG 7, which emphasizes access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all by 2030. UN Women is delighted to be part of this important conference on supporting innovative modalities to promote women’s equitable access to energy resources and services, skill development and employment opportunities in the energy sector. This initiative is closely aligned with the spirit of Goal 7 and will catalyze a greater global—and South Asian—focus on the links between gender equality, sustainable energy and the achievement of the SDGs.

Greg Adamson. President, IEEE, Society on Social Implications of Technology Australia

Technology can be disruptive in good and bad ways. At this conference we will be considering positive benefits that well-implemented technology can bring. Technologists make an important contribution to these benefits; it is part of our ethical responsibility. IEEE is a global professional organization of technologists with more than 400,000 members. Its focus is on advancing technology for the benefit of humanity. Benefiting communities isn’t just about having more technology, but about the right technology introduced in the best way, with community goals in mind. Technologists need to consider the technology itself, its reliability and efficiency. But we also have a responsibility to provide technology that is suitable to the needs of the community. Otherwise we can contribute to negative disruption. The best technology will fit the local context, and that technology may need to be developed, not simply imported. Positive benefits depend on implementing the technology in a way that considers its impact, on the country, the environment, and the community. A good example of effective development of technology is India’s leading role in providing global information technology services. The roots of that success go back to the 1930s and 1950s, it is an example that is important today.