Energy Access and Women’s Livelihood Workshop

 “Energy Access and Women’s Livelihood

Date:- 23rd May, 2016

Juniper Hall-India Habitat Centre, New Delhi


SEWA Bharat, as a member of the Stree Shakti Consortium, assembled thought leaders, private corporations, women in the informal sector and major stakeholders for a daylong workshop to engage in conversation on how women in the informal sector can become users, suppliers, and distributors of energy to improve their livelihoods and their lives. Attendees included representatives from Rockefellar Foundation, Philips Lighting India, GIZ, TERI University, Smart Power India, UN Women, CLEAN, Vasudha Foundation, ARC, and Green Light Planet.

The workshop’s conversation aimed to progress and develop solutions for inadequate and costly access to energy for women in the informal sector. The afternoon opened with a general overview of the findings of how energy plays a role for women in 5 major trades: street vendors, agriculture workers, construction workers, small shop vendors, and home-based workers.  The work identified key ways in which energy was being used, what inhibited workers from being more productive, and possible solutions to solve for these gaps in 4 states across India. Women from each industry who participated in the study presented their challenges and the ways they use energy at home and in the workplace. Following each in-depth perspective from the workers, attendees were invited to participate to identify solutions being implemented to address these inefficiencies or brainstorm new ways of solving key energy issues facing women in the informal sector.

Session 1: Introduction and Keynote

The workshop began at 10 am with SEWA Prayer followed by introductions of the participants. Smt Renana Jhabwala, gave the welcome address introducing the Stree Shakti Consortium and setting the purpose for the gathering.

Mr Nitin Desai (Board Member, Shakti Sustainable Energy Foundation), who stated energy to be a critical component of economic as well as social progress, gave the keynote address. He stressed over the fact that for education, electricity becomes essential to get full experience of computers and study at home after dark.  He also linked safety to streetlights, and the confidence that one gets through proper lighting. Another area for discussion is climate change and how it is affecting the lower rungs of the society. According to him, the energy policy should have a differentiated approach as is followed in rich countries where the policy is different for rich, middle and poor classes. Efforts should be given to increase the energy access for the lower class where women have to endure the most of household activities resulting in many health implications.


Session 2: Unearthing Gender and Energy Linkages

Smt Veena Joshi and Ms Sushmita Goswami jointly presented the findings of the study, which covered the methodology, and main findings pertaining to different trade groups. The presentation was followed by open discussion where the participants raised questions and gave their inputs.

–       Conduct more investigative studies in women’s role in supplying and scaling energy access.

–       Address the drudgery of women’s work by offering more efficient ways of work through technological inputs

–       Offer financial services to the poor to access more efficient and more productive forms of energy.

Session 3: Energy solutions focused on Women’s Livelihood

3.1 Issues and Interventions around small and marginal farmers

Moderator: Dr. Sanjay Kumar, Director (SEWA Bharat)

Chair: Ms Subhalakshmi Nandi, (Program Specialist, Women Economic Empowerment- UN Women

Workers: Ms. Saritaben, Agriculture Worker (Bihar); Ms. Renuben, Agriculture Worker (Bihar); Ms. Shobhaben, Agriculture Worker (Uttarakhand)

The agricultural workers from Bihar and Uttarakhand laid down before the house the issues faced by them while practicing agriculture through traditional means and the drudgery involved during the process. Shobha ben from Uttarakhand especially mentioned about animal menace which was leading farmers to quit agriculture. Sarita ben from Bihar explained in details how mechanization has helped in improving productivity and reducing drudgery. Sarita ben also explained in detail the functioning of the CHCs.

In the open house discussion, a few more examples were given by the participants like wire fencing to stop animal menace and solar powered tools but their impact requires more probing. It was suggested that

–       More coordination is required between agriculture experts and energy experts to develop targeted solutions.

–       Linkages between agriculture schools for research and development

This section of the session concluded with remarks from Ms Subhalakshmi Nandi. She appreciated the idea of CHCs and the perspective where women are seen not only as beneficiaries but also as contributors to growth. She suggested that the women’s role in the supply chain has to be recognized and decentralization of services is important with women in control. In addition, a knowledge platform can be created where stakeholders get to share their learning. With the present drought conditions how can this research be taken ahead is an important question.  Ms Nandi stressed on organizing efforts on the lines of Mahila Kisan Adhikar Manch for the women farmers.


3.2 Issues and Interventions around Home based workers

Moderator: Ms. Bijal Bhatt, Director (Mahila Housing SEWA Trust)

Workers: Ms. Krishnaben, Energy Auditor (Gujarat); Ms. Kaushalyaben, Home-based Worker (Gujarat); Ms. Sudhaben, Home-based Worker (Gujarat)

The workers from Gujarat shared their experiences of improved access to energy like roof top ventilation, energy efficient products and renewable energy products and how it has changed their lives. They have been saving more and using the saving in productive works. Also now their productivity has increased. The energy audit program has helped many women in reducing their household expenditure. Ventilation, light and consistent energy contribute to the exacerbation of slum conditions.

The open house discussions saw curiosity amongst the participants on the energy audit program and its expansion to other sectors. It was suggested by the participants to

–       Expand energy auditing market beyond slums to include middle and upper class housing, to give auditors a higher increase in earnings.

–       Innovate in energy efficient products.

–       Buyback to be included in the program

3.3 Issues and Interventions around small shops and commercials

Chair: Mr Hari Natrajan

Moderator:  Dr. Sanjay Kumar, Director (SEWA Bharat)

Small shop and commercials operators: Ms. Pushpaben, Eatery Operator (Uttarakhand); Ms. Vidyaben, Parlor Operator (Bihar); Ms. Ushaben, Garment Worker (Bihar)

The women operating small shops shared their issues and concerns related to energy and how it affects their lives most importantly the need for lighting and cooling which has a direct impact on their earnings. Pushpa ben from Uttarakhand shared how she faces loss of 3000 to 4000 rupees a month in the wake of a power cut.

Many valuable suggestions came in the open house discussions:

– Utilizing and identifying the strengths of environment: underground cooling for the hills

– Solar operated kitchen can be another solution for frequent power cuts

– Bill boards/signs as solar panels as well as acting as a differentiator

– Government providing solar systems and connectivity. There is much inefficiency in the implementation, such as extremely marginalized populations not having direct access

– More research needs to be conducted on the ground level. Success should be expanded from access to efficiency. Are people more efficient through access to energy? Are lives improving?

3.4 Issues and Interventions around street vendors and construction workers

Moderator: Mr. Harsh Singh, Sr. Advisor (UNDP)

Speakers: Ms. Rachita Misra, Program Manager (SELCO Foundation); Ms. Namrataben, Marketing Executive (SEWA Bank); Ms. Kailashben, Street Vendor (Gujarat)

Ms Rachita Mishra from SELCO presented a short video documentary about their hawker’s model that is being practiced in Karnataka. Street vendors have especially benefitted from the model as they are getting assured energy through energy entrepreneurs in the evening. Namrata ben from Gujarat also shared her experiences as marketing executive of renewable energy products. Kailash ben,a street vendor from Gujarat brought to the fore the energy issues faced by vendors and how she has benefitted from using solar lanterns.

The open discussions involved issues surrounding the products available for the vendors and innovation required. Also there is a need for customized products for different types of work that women are engaged in. As for the construction workers, the migrant workers benefit much from integrated energy centers and thus have access to clean energy through these efforts, which is very important for their well being.

The suggestions for this session were to

–       Develop a replicable solution by identifying consumers

–       Building rapport with consumers

–       And finding the right technology providers

Session 4: Presentation of Recommendations

Nearing the end of the workshop Ms Veena Joshi summarized the recommendations that came from the participants during the day under the broad heads as marked out by Ms Renana Jhabvala, Chairperson of SEWA Bharat.

How to Scale/Commercialize Successful Interventions

  • Expanding the energy auditing market beyond just slums to middle/upper class homes and businesses to increase the earning potential of the energy auditors
  • Connecting energy auditors to distribution companies
  • Forming partnerships for scaling up between governments, private companies, financial institutions, and implementation partners
  • Developing a space for small-scale, independent energy entrepreneurs/vendors


How to Improve Current Solutions

  • Energy auditors who replace inefficient appliances can be connected to existing recycling systems to improve the disposal process
  • Reducing the cost of burners for stoves for households
  • Developing solar panels for small businesses that can be used as signs/billboards. Also gives businesses a differentiator in the market
  • Solar cooking as an integrated solution for small eateries


Identification of Solutions for Issues

  • As agricultural tools are fueled by fossil fuels, solutions can be reached when agriculture experts and energy experts engage in dialogue
  • Energy companies should gear up to address the solutions from the demand perspective


Further Research on Policy/Public Solutions

  • More dialogue and research on the 60-70% of people in India who do not have traditional and mainstream energy access in public forums
  • Creation of a knowledge platform to bring different stakeholders to share best practices and promote vertical integration of improvements.
  • Identifying the outreach of public schemes which provide energy
  • A systematic way of cataloguing issues to provide a direction for targeted solutions


The workshop was concluded at 5 pm with a vote of thanks given by Ms Ruchi Sankrit.