Providing energy for women is key to tackling poverty

By Anne Wheldon, Ashden Knowledge and Research Adviser

Back in February this year I had the privilege of sitting in the kitchen of King Ugi, ruler of the Kasepuhan people, who live in a remote mountainous region of Java, Indonesia. Some twenty women and children and a few men were sitting in groups around the floor of the enormous room, enjoying a TV programme. Members of the royal household and local villagers watched while chatting and working on domestic chores by electric light - preparing food for the next day and tending the fire, which by tradition must never go out.

It was a very social, public experience - quite different to the way I watch TV at home.

But watching TV was also a new experience for these people: The Kasepuhan region is far from the mains electric grid and power for the TV and lights has only recently been made possible by Ashden finalist IBEKA, a not-for-profit organisation that provides micro-hydro systems to off-grid communities.

Surprisingly, although in the West we often dismiss the benefits of TV, it can be hugely useful for women. Just watching a film shows different lifestyles and role models. And women we spoke to in Indonesia were keen to get information from TV – on everything from prices to politics. 

Thanks to the efforts of Ashden finalists GIZ and INTEGRATION, home-bound women in rural Afghanistan also have a window on the world for the first time ever through TV.

Clean energy makes women's lives easier in many other ways too, as this year's Ashden finalists show.

For example, on our judging visit to the Philippines we saw MyShelter's clear plastic bottles used as skylights to diffuse daylight into dark urban houses, where many women and children spend much of their day.  In Uganda, a maternity clinic fitted with a Barefoot Power solar system had light to manage night-time deliveries safely, and girls had desklights to help with homework. In south India, access to loans from microfinance organisation SKDRDP to buy biogas plants removed the health hazard of smoky cooking fires – which kill nearly two million people, mainly women and young children, each year.

And clean energy provides women with more opportunities to earn income. We saw new jobs for young women producing energy-saving water filters at the Hydrologic factory in rural Cambodia. And women making incense sticks and bidis in their homes in south India could work in the evenings with a solar lighting system bought using a loan from SKDRDP.

Why is this so important? Because women are the majority of the world's poor - so poverty won't be eliminated unless we improve women's lot. That means improving daily life, and also expanding opportunities, through providing information and ways to earn income.

Our finalists are showing that clean energy can play a key role in all this. Mawa, the royal housekeeper of the mountain kingdom in Indonesia summed it up to me:  “Having bright electric light is obviously one of the main benefits of the hydro, but really just everything about it is good.”

We’ll soon be bringing out a more analytical report which will look at these issues in more detail.

Read more about the international finalists for the 2012 Ashden Awards

Register here for the Ashden 2012 Conference: Sustainable Energy for All 

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