Given the right opportunities, women can be much more than latent consumers of electricity.
Giving women access to energy is important, but women must also acquire the skills needed to maximize the potential income and other opportunities from new energy supplies.
That’s the main objective of an ADB-supported technical assistance project to promote energy-based livelihoods for female micro-entrepreneurs in Madhya Pradesh, India. The technical assistance was part of the ADB-supported Madhya Pradesh Energy Efficiency Improvement Investment Program to provide access to quality electricity for about 1.4 million households throughout the Indian state.
By improving the operational efficiency of electricity distribution in this rural area, an estimated 20,000 people were able to save time spent on household chores and raising children, and became more aware about efficient use of electricity and energy conservation. The women were also trained to learn how to run their micro-enterprises.
There is no better way to describe the impact of the technical assistance than through the voices of the women who benefited from the program.
And it has a ripple effect.
Mala, one of the beneficiaries, received community recognition and respect for her thriving business of assembling and repairing compact fluorescent lamps. In a part of India where many women are usually known not by their own names but as ‘the wife of’ so and so, Mala’s husband is now referred to within the community as “the husband of Mala, who repairs bulbs.”
Similarly, Suman became the first female potter in her community. After the project training, she bought a motorized pottery wheel, which is easier to operate and meant she could make more pots. As head of a micro-enterprise, Suman is now financially independent, contributes to the family expenses, and feels confident enough to mentor other women. This has increased her mobility, as she often travels to other districts to train potters.
The technical assistance was based on the assumption that a reliable 24-hour electricity supply would create more business opportunities, which in turn would result in more micro-enterprises led by women – if women were trained to take advantage of these new livelihood opportunities.
After assessing the needs and constraints to starting such businesses through a survey of just over 1,000 women in the project area, we consulted local self-help groups to select qualified business development services providers to conduct the trainings. The courses equipped women with key skills such as improved communication, negotiation and management, and boosted their confidence when speaking in public. The training modules and instructional materials were developed keeping in mind the relevance and cultural appropriateness of the capacity building program.
The project evaluation results challenge the perceived belief that women are only latent consumers of electricity. In fact, they are much more. Given the right opportunities, women can be effective producers and suppliers of energy products as well as service providers. They can make a significant contribution to the energy sector, and realize the potential of increased access to energy to improve their livelihoods and incomes.
ADB’s technical assistance helped many women in Madhya Pradesh benefit from the enhanced rural electrification in their areas, by either starting their own businesses or improving their existing micro-enterprises using different energy-based technologies.
Participating in the project as a gender practitioner helped me better understand the three areas of energy, gender and finance, and reaffirmed my conviction that capacity building and skills development help provide equal opportunities to women for enhancing their livelihoods and income.