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Participation in solar projects will lead to women empowerment

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Kolkata: If women in Indian villages start participating in solar electricity projects, planning and implementing maintenance they can challenge patriarchy and gender roles discrimination.

Karina Standal and Tanja Winther from the Centre of Development and Environment, University of Oslo, examined in a recent study how the introduction of electricity in new contexts (solar power) affected gender relations in rural communities in Uttar Pradesh in India and in Bamiyan in Afghanistan.

“In terms of empowerment, the women feel that access to solar electricity gave them an easier everyday life and sense of accomplishments in pursuing their roles as mothers and wives/daughters-in-law and the like. This is, of course, very important in raising their life quality,” Standal said in an email interaction from Norway.

Centred on community solar power plants (micro-grids) for generating livelihoods or household electricity in two UP villages and four in Bamiyan, the research revealed contrasting features in terms of inclusion of women in such projects and their ability to counter patriarchy.

The study was published in the Forum For Development Studies on January 20.

Standal elaborated that the Indian project provided women several benefits but did not elevate them to a position where they could actively challenge discriminatory gender relations. In the Afghan case female role-models trained and working as “solar engineers” meant that communities experienced the benefits of women working and receiving the education.

“The Indian case in mention did not have this element in the implementation. Rather, it saw it only useful to train men as ‘village operators’ with responsibilities for the solar equipment. In that sense, this project reinforces patriarchal structures that work to limit women’s role outside their home,” observed Standal.

What emerged was “when projects are carried out without women’s true and equal participation, as in the Indian case, there is lost potential in a more long-term empowerment to challenge discriminating gender roles”.

Standal said the Indian project did attempt at some female representation in Village Energy Committees that are responsible for the solar systems in their village and for the monthly payments from the villagers for the consumption, salary of the village operator, maintaining bank accounts, holding meetings and the like.

“However, the women did not participate in the Village Energy Committees, as they were not allowed to speak freely due to cultural restrictions on women,” Standal said, adding that this scenario “cannot be generalized to Indian villages implementing solar electricity in general”.

But the fact remains, both internationally and in the Indian context, that the issues and opportunities of gender equality and energy development have not been receiving enough attention, stressed Standal.

“Women (in the case studies) are only seen as important end-users and benefits are provided for them to have a better life within the existing patriarchal system,” said Standal laying strong emphasis on ensuring that “women are granted equal access to participation in such projects”.

“Participation (should be) at all levels and not reduced to certain areas to make the most of these energy projects.”

Standal said the Indian project was initiated by a private Norwegian company and executed as a public-private partnership between the company, the Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency (IREDA), Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) and Norad (Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation).

“The Afghan case was initiated by the NGO Norwegian Church Aid in support with the Indian Barefoot College. Their model of training women as Barefoot Solar Engineers is very interesting and I think has had several added values to the project in terms of impact on gender relations and more opportunities for women,” concluded the researcher.

Adding from her own experience in the field, Indian environmental economist Joyashree Roy of Kolkata’s Jadavpur University, concurred.

“True inclusion of a stakeholder (women) from very beginning helps in getting them to change maker,” Roy said.(IANS)

NewsGram View-Indian women need empowerment and this should be achieved through any means. If this participation helps then the women should be encouraged to take part in such projects.

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Women Hit Especially Hard In Congo’s Worst Ebola Outbreak

For the afflicted, the road to recovery is long and lonely.

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Ebola, WHO, UNICEF, congo, Uganda, women
Congolese health workers register people and take their temperatures before they are vaccinated against Ebola in the village of Mangina in North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of Congo. VOA

The Democratic Republic of Congo is in the throes of its worst-ever Ebola outbreak, with more than 420 cases in the country’s volatile east, and a mortality rate of just under 60 percent. But this outbreak — the nation’s tenth known Ebola epidemic — is unusual because more than 60 percent of patients are women.

Among them is Baby Benedicte. Her short life has already been unimaginably difficult.

At one month old, she is underweight, at 2.9 kilograms. And she is alone. Her mother had Ebola, and died giving birth to her. She’s spent the last three weeks of her life in a plastic isolation cube, cut off from most human contact. She developed a fever at eight days old and was transferred to this hospital in Beni, a town of some half-million people in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

More than 400 people have been diagnosed with Ebola here since the beginning of August, and more than half of them have died in a nation the size of Western Europe that struggles with insecurity and a lack of the most basic infrastructure and services. That makes this the second-worst Ebola outbreak in history, after the hemorrhagic fever killed more than 11,000 people in West Africa between 2013 and 2016.

This is 10th outbreak to strike the vast country since 1976, when Ebola was first identified in Congo. And this particular outbreak is further complicated by a simmering civil conflict that has plagued this region for more than two decades.

Guido Cornale, UNICEF’s coordinator in the region, says the scope of this outbreak is clear.

“It has become the worst outbreak in Congo, this is not a mystery,” he said.

What is mysterious, however, is the demographics of this outbreak. This time, more than 60 percent of cases are women, says the government’s regional health coordinator, Ndjoloko Tambwe Bathe.

“All the analyses show that this epidemic is feminized. Figures like this are alarming. It’s true that the female cases are more numerous than the male cases,” he said.

Congo, Uganda, ebola, Women
Health workers walk with a boy suspected of having been infected with the Ebola virus, at an Ebola treatment center in Beni, near Congo’s border with Uganda. VOA

Bathe declined to predict when the outbreak might end, though international officials have said it may last another six months. Epidemiologists are still studying why this epidemic is so skewed toward women and children, Cornale said.

“So now we can only guess. And one of the guesses is that woman are the caretakers of sick people at home. So if a family member got sick, who is taking care of him or her? Normally, a woman,” he said.

Or a nurse. Many of those affected are health workers, who are on the front line of battling this epidemic. Nurse Guilaine Mulindwa Masika, spent 16 days in care after a patient transmitted the virus to her. She says it was the fight of her life.

“The pain was enormous, the pain was constant,” she said. “The headache, the diarrhea, the vomiting, and the weakness — it was very, very bad.”

Congo, Ebola, Women
Marie-Roseline Darnycka Belizaire, World Health Organization (WHO) Epidemiology Team Lead, talks to women as part of Ebola contact tracing, in Mangina, Democratic Republic of Congo. VOA

For the afflicted, the road to recovery is long and lonely. Masika and her cured colleagues face weeks of leave from work to ensure the risk of infection is gone. In the main hospital in the city of Beni, families who have recovered live together in a large white tent, kept four meters from human contact by a bright orange plastic cordon. They yell hello at their caretakers, who must don protective gear if they want to get any closer.

And for Baby Benedicte, who is tended to constantly by a nurse covered head to toe in protective gear, the future is uncertain. Medical workers aren’t entirely sure where her father is, or if he is going to come for her.

Also Read: Congo Start Trials For Drugs Against Ebola

She sleeps most of the day, the nurse says, untroubled by the goings-on around her. Meanwhile, the death toll rises. (VOA)