Empowering women to be harbinger of climate change

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Empowering women to be harbinger of climate change

Saturday, 18 November 2023 | Upmanyu Patil

Training of rural women as entrepreneurs and imparting them with the knowledge to adapt to a changing environment is crucial for climate action

With floods, cyclones and heat waves becoming more frequent, the world is witnessing adverse and devastating impacts of climate change. Even though climate change affects everyone, it does not affect everyone equally. Vulnerability to climate change is aggravated by inequity and marginalization associated with gender, ethnicity and other social and economic factors. Women are disproportionately impacted by climate change owing to their socio-economic status, lack of resources and absence of participation in public decision-making.

Even though the discourse around the negative impacts of climate change has gained significant traction, conversations on the critical role communities and vulnerable groups like women play in climate action need to be mainstreamed as well. Women have been at the forefront of environmental conservation and have the expertise to use renewable energy sources, which can help combat climate action. One such group of women known as Sakhis are championing the demand for clean energy technology specifically for the rural areas, communities that have limited awareness and access to modern energy services.

Under the initiative, Women’s Entrepreneurship in clean energy programme initiated by Swayam Shikshan Prayog (SSP) in districts of Maharashtra and Bihar, Sakhis are at the core of the programme, aided by multi-sector partnership providing access to technology, finance and markets. These women are not just torchbearers of clean energy transitions, they are symbols of empowerment connecting all vital dots, including women’s entrepreneurship, driving awareness and ensuring last-mile delivery of sustainable energy products like solar lamps, advanced cook stoves, solar water heaters, enabling public private partnership by curating local solutions keeping in mind the needs of the grass root communities.

The demand for clean & renewable energy technology and its products, solutions, and their adoption, continue to lag behind in rural India due to a lack of awareness and access. “Empowering and creating strong networks of women clean energy entrepreneurs has significantly enhanced awareness, outreach, and enabled access to clean energy information and solutions for the last mile”, says Vandana Khandekar, a fellow Sakhi, grassroots leader and entrepreneur from Solapur district Maharashtra. She started her journey by being a member of the group, receiving training on Entrepreneurship Development and Women-Led Climate Resilient Farming.

Overcoming her personal challenges, Vandana is now one of village leaders sensitizing community members about organic farming, vermicomposting, promoting clean energy solutions like bio-digesters (biogas plants), with the objective of promoting zero-waste farming and increased financial savings within small and marginal farming households. Vandana has not only guided 200 women farmers in implementing one-acre farming, improving household health and nutrition, along with increasing earnings through the sale of organic vegetables locally. She has also been instrumental in getting 20 biogas plants and 8 vermicompost beds installed in households across her village. Vandana’s journey is not just a personal transformation but also a testament to women’s critical role in developing inclusive climate solutions. 

Many more women like Vandana in various parts of the country are making their homes and communities more sustainable and resilient. The program has been pivotal in building the capacity of these Sakhis, running public awareness programs, and community meetings, providing public platforms to connect these entrepreneurs to technology providers, financial institutions. More than this, they have played an integral role in overcoming historical societal inequalities in energy systems.

Resources and products tailored to community needs are showing clear benefits in deploying renewable technologies, improving efficiency, reducing expenses, and generating local livelihood opportunities. Additionally, the adoption of these energy-efficient & socially beneficial products (like LED bulbs, solar lamps, induction cook stoves, and bio compost) has played a pivotal role in the reduction of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions - contributing to a broader climate action approach

Empowering women, and placing them at the centre of clean energy transitions is not only improving people’s lives but also garnering increased attention as effective agents towards more inclusive systems. Training and capacity building of rural women as entrepreneurs, equipping them with the knowledge to adapt to changing environmental conditions, scaling financial resources and providing technical support to women–led initiatives are crucial strategies for enabling them to lead the charge on climate action.

(The writer is the Director - Programs, Swayam Shikshan Prayog; views are personal)

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