Guest blog by Akanksha Golchha
Climate solutions in Indian villages can improve livelihoods and bring about transformative social change, women leaders stressed during a two-day event “Efficient and clean energy solutions led by women in India: discussion with farmers organized by NRDC, Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) and its partners. Women are inequitably affected by climate change and more vulnerable to its impact due to social structures. Climate resilience must be inclusive and include partnerships with women. Capacity building and access to resources are essential tools for ensuring gender equitable development. Actions that enable women to both adapt to climate change and access resources to improve their livelihoods will bring significant gains.
The NRDC and SEWA are facilitating equal access of women and men to clean energy and technology in Indian villages as part of the Hariyali Green Village Plans. NRDC and SEWA, in partnership with the Association of State Renewable Energy Agencies, Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (AREAS-MNRE) and Clean Energy Access Network (CLEAN), hosted an event virtual two-day event with policy makers, farmers and clean technology providers. , and women who have adopted climate-friendly solutions such as biogas plants, solar pumps and cool roofs.
Snapshot of SEWA member Rekhaben sharing his experience of using solar pumps – “Solar pumps are a cheaper and cleaner alternative to diesel powered pumps, which can be used on demand without storing fuel”
Women are essential for India to achieve its ambitious climate goals. The majority of the Indian population lives in villages, with uncertain and irregular availability of the electricity grid. Distributed Renewable Energy (DRE) applications can help these villages become electrified, reduce drudgery and improve livelihoods. Households without access to clean energy technologies spend a substantial part of their monthly budget on the purchase of fossil fuels, mainly for cooking and pumping water. Thus, the adoption of clean energy technologies makes both environmental and economic sense.
Women are often at the forefront of effective rural development. Governments at state and national level in India, recognizing the critical role of women in achieving climate goals, are developing tailored policy instruments to address the needs of rural women and to implement DRE solutions to an unprecedented scale. For example, the recently announced Framework for Promoting Distributed Renewable Energy Livelihood Applications emphasizes capacity building and financing mechanisms for women.
Most rural women are employed in the informal sector, which often comes with fewer economic, social security and societal benefits. Access to clean energy technologies and finance are essential principles for improving living conditions, improving livelihoods and changing the status quo of societal structures. Furthermore, it enables women to contribute to decision-making processes. Most rural women do not own assets, which limits their ability to access formal lines of credit. Women’s and men’s loan requirements differ based on their income streams, use of technology, and ability to meet repayment deadlines. In some cases, a male family member may jointly apply for a loan and provide his assets as collateral for a female without asset ownership. It is important to develop innovative and adapted financing mechanisms that improve the availability of credit for women so that they can invest in clean technologies.
Snapshot of SEWA member Sangitaben Rathod sharing his experience of using a biogas plant – “Biogas is very beneficial to all of us resulting in economic benefits, time savings and reduced effort to collect firewood. However, the high initial costs remain a challenge”
Technology vendors discussed the business models they have implemented to address funding challenges, including group co-ownership models. In such an arrangement, women’s self-help groups can co-own and share assets such as a solar pump or solar cold storage unit, for the benefit of the whole group. However, all of these solutions require constant interaction between the technology provider and the technology user – to build trust in the product and to structure personalized financing products. The SEWA sisters highlighted the need for rapid availability of after-sales services to ensure that assets are repaired and maintained, as needed, and operating optimally. Building local capacity ensures timely repairs and resolution of grievances, so asset owners are able to reap maximum benefits and create livelihood opportunities.
Many policies, technologies and funding programs have failed due to limited outreach to targeted stakeholders, especially in rural areas. NRDC and SEWA work in the states of Gujarat and Rajasthan to raise awareness by leveraging the substantial network of SEWA sisters to build capacity and share knowledge on relevant policies, clean technologies and funding schemes.
Clean energy technologies must be affordable and accessible to everyone. Village women can be empowered to become agents of change, so that they, their families and their communities can benefit from the transition to clean energy. Equitable development can be achieved through the streamlined efforts of stakeholders – one technology, one household, one village at a time.
Akanksha Golchha is the Clean Energy Access Lead (Consultant) with NRDC