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DEVELOPMENT-TANZANIA: Lighting Up Women’s Lives

Sarah McGregor

ARUSHA, Sep 26 2008 (IPS) - Anneth Laizer shoved her kerosene lantern onto the top shelf and switched on the lights after her home in Tanzania’s third-largest city, Arusha, was connected to electricity earlier this year.

Researchers are studying how a shift from wood or coal to other energy sources affects women. Credit:  Kimberly Haugen

Researchers are studying how a shift from wood or coal to other energy sources affects women. Credit: Kimberly Haugen

These days, television provides dinnertime entertainment and neighbours come over to charge the batteries of their mobile phones. Rather than buying perishables day by day, Laizer now stocks fresh milk, juice and leftovers in a refrigerator. Her son studies long past sunset.

Cooking on a briquette-powered stove is the only habit she finds hard to break – it’s the method she learned as a child.

“Electricity makes life simpler. Without it, we used kerosene and charcoal which are expensive and time-consuming,” Laizer said. “I wasn’t even able to iron clothes so I could look smart.”

The once-off connection charge of $435 stopped Laizer from getting electricity any sooner. With that fee paid, the family has slashed its energy bill by more than two-thirds to $17 a month.

The Laizer family are fortunate. Tanzania’s per capita income stands at $744, according to 2005 figures from the United Nations Development Programme; the connection charge would place electricity out of the reach of many households.

“Women are largely responsible for domestic activities so a lack of electricity at home makes their work tougher and longer,” said Geoffrey Chambua of the Activism, Lobbying and Coalition Building unit of the Tanzania Gender Networking Programme.

“That means less time for income-generating activities, studying, employment or leisure,” he explained in an interview with IPS.

Only 10 percent of energy demand in the east African country of 40 million people is fed by petroleum, electricity and coal. Biomass – charcoal and firewood – meet the balance of consumption needs. Half of the state power utility’s customers are factories and businesses, while 285,000 households in the major cities have access to electricity, according to 2006 statistics from the Tanzania Electricity Supply Company. Frequent power shortages make this access irregular.

There is virtually no electricity or running water in Tanzania’s rural areas, where 65 percent of the population lives. The electricity grid’s infrastructure does not reach three-quarters of the country.

Villagers burn wood or charcoal for cooking and for boiling water. Oil lamps cast a dim light in mud-brick or corrugated iron huts.

“For women in villages, electricity would save time. It takes hours to walk to the forest to collect wood. They can only carry back a small amount so they have to go out every few days,” Charles Kayoka, a gender specialist at the University of Dar es Salaam, said. “For women living in the city, electricity would save money because charcoal and gas are expensive these days.”

Surging global fuel prices and a 21 percent hike in electricity tariffs in January have pushed up consumption of traditional fuels in Tanzania. Prices of charcoal and kerosene have doubled in a year.

Firewood has become more difficult to acquire. Authorities have recently cracked down on illegal harvesting of trees to help slow deforestation.

Poor city dwellers in Tanzania spend between 25 and 50 percent of their budgets on fuel depending on seasonal costs, compared to as little as two to seven percent in Europe, according to a study published in August 2005. The report, ‘The Impact of Energy Use on Poor Urban Livelihoods in Arusha, Tanzania,’ explored how a shift to “modern” energy could uplift the lives of women and the elements that were needed to support this transformation.

Exactly how access to energy affects women is complex. Energia, an international network on gender and sustainable energy based in the Netherlands, set out to unravel these links in a global study in collaboration with the UK government’s Department for International Development (DFID).

The 2006 study, ‘Energy, Development and Gender: Global correlations and causality,’ involved researchers from nine countries and focused on the question: what evidence is there that energy has a key role to play in gender and poverty?

The project finds some evidence that energy can be a driver of economic growth, particularly at the industrial stage for developing countries.

There is also a strong correlation between per capita energy consumption and human development indicators such as life expectancy, literacy and school enrolment used in the United Nations (UN) Human Development Index, though whether this is causal or simply linked to rising incomes has not been demonstrated.

None of these correlations addressed the link between energy and gender equity and empowerment. The Energia/DFID study set out to do this by comparing energy access to indicators of particular importance to women. In addition to contributing to the overall development of infrastructure, and to lessening the time burden on women and girls, access to modern clean energy decreased levels of indoor air pollution.

Access to commercial energy has been plotted by the International Energy Agency and the study found it correlated with the UN indicators of extreme poverty: life expectancy, probability of not surviving to age 40, school enrolment, and low weight in children.

The study then measured access to energy against the UN’s Gender Development Index and found that even modest increases in energy and electricity consumption could be associated with much larger improvements in developments in women’s life expectancy, literacy and school enrolment.

Using data from 57 countries, the researchers are now looking to measure vulnerability on a new index, a ‘gender-energy-poverty’ index and to identify ‘hot spots’ – countries which need to be prioritised for attention.

However, the relationship between energy consumption and the UN’s Gender Empowerment Index, which measures gender inequality in economic and political spheres of activity, is much less clear. “Gender empowerment likely depends more strongly on other factors such as legal, social and policy frameworks,” says the lead researcher Elizabeth Cecelski.

*With additional reporting by Kathryn Strachan in Johannesburg

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