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Empowering women for cleaner power

The world is moving at a progressive pace. In the past decade, India, in particular, has advanced leaps and bounds in the areas of science, industry and technology. It is considered as one of the world's fastest growing major economies. Despite these advancements, gender inequality still continues to be one of India's major societal problems. This mainly arises because of the difference in the biology, psychology and cultural norms prevalent in the society. Though socially constructed, the disparity in the treatment of men versus women is empirically evident as we are witnessing a large decline in female labour force participation in the recent past.

"When women are involved, the evidence is very clear: communities are better, economies are better, the world is better," 
Kristalina Georgieva - Managing Director, IMF.

While there is a pressing need to address gender inequality, there is also an equal if not more urgent need to tackle the impending climate crisis that is looming over us. It has been established that phasing out the fossil fuel industry and shifting to cleaner energy is one of the most effective ways to mitigate the catastrophic effects of climate change. The world as we speak is making an aggressive shift to renewable energy. India in a strategic and bold move has set a progressive renewable energy target of 450 Gigawatts by 2030. It is estimated that the overall employment opportunities in the renewable energy sector could go up from what was 10.3 million in 2017 to a staggering  29 million by 2050

The injustices of climate change and gender inequality are intertwined and need to be tackled hand in hand. Women have been underrepresented in all fields of work and the energy sector is no different. As per a recent gender survey by International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), women globally represent only around 25% of directors across the renewable energy sector and they hold a mere 8% of senior management positions in the wind industry. In India, women account for only 11% of the total workforce in the rooftop solar sector industry. If we further break it down, the corporate segment has 34% share of female employees, the design and preconstruction phase has 18% representation, 3% representation in the area of construction and commissioning and a mere 1% in operations and maintenance.

This calls for more emphasis on economic empowerment and financial independence for women. If we analyse, women play a critical role in energy choices. To start with, they are primarily responsible for making major decisions regarding energy consumption on the household front. They also influence and instil energy consumption and conservation habits in their children. Even on the work front, women bring a different and fresh pool of talent, perspective, inclusivity and creativity. They are known to be decisive, show more empathy and speak up for the vulnerable which will prove to  be a major asset during this era of clean energy transition.

A study by the Mckinsey Global Institute suggests that if women are allowed to participate in economy related decisions on par with men it would accrue an astounding three trillion dollars to the national economy by 2025. It also proposes that electrifying rural communities is likely to increase female employment by 9% and also result in a 23% spike in rural women working outside their homes. Moreover, access to adequate electricity in the rural areas will especially benefit women and girls. The household work that they are subject to on a daily basis becomes less laborious and time-intensive. This allows them to pursue education or skill development, generate income and get more involved in civic matters.

Having said this, we are witnessing positive strides in this direction, though in small proportions. As a case in instance, the salt flats of Kutch, Gujarat produce around 75% of India's salt needs. Thanks to the Agriya community, they migrate every six to eight months to this unforgiving landscape and work under scorching summer conditions to produce salt. Until now, they have relied on diesel pumps to extract brine from the ground. This is very labour intensive and hence was primarily operated by men. But the recent shift to solar-powered hybrid pumps has made it possible for the womenfolk to get involved as the process is no longer labour intensive and this has also helped in increasing their savings by 66%. In another instance, the social impact organization Sattva and Smart power India used a renewable energy sourced mini-grid in Kamalapur, Uttar Pradesh to train 80 women to use electrically powered sewing machines and helped them gain a much needed steady source of income.

Another inspiring story connecting women empowerment and renewable energy is the exemplary work done by Barefoot College in Tilonia in Rajasthan. The college runs entirely on solar power. It trains rural women to make solar panels who then go on to become solar engineers. These trained women are instrumental in bringing solar power to more than 13000 homes across India, mainly to inaccessible remote villages which were devoid of even basic electricity. Though these progressive examples are encouraging, they are still pretty negligible to make a serious impact in empowering women on the whole.

To conclude, in order to increase employment opportunities for women in the renewable energy sector, the government needs to have socially progressive policies in place with a special focus on subsidised skill development for marginalised women. This can be achieved by better collaboration of the government with employment organizations, educational institutions and the renewable energy industry. One other suggestion that can help a great deal is empowering women-oriented Self Help Groups (SHG). These SHGs play a major role in sensitizing other women groups to form their own SHGs. Social constraints and lack of resources restrict rural women to elevate their living conditions. Setting up the SHGs can help these women to get together and work through mutually beneficial schemes and improve their standard of living. Skilled training and support can be provided to these groups so that even women who are less educated benefit and are open to more employment opportunities. This helps in enhancing their confidence and capability thereby empowering them in the process. They can also be instrumental in effectively promoting clean energy access to local households. After all, if we hope to create an exemplary future to inspire our subsequent generations, the world needs to be enhanced both environmentally and socially.

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