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Does ICS technology contribute to gender empowerment: Empirical Evidence from Odisha.

Although there is no dearth of international and national level studies that have investigated the effects of clean energy for gender empowerment, until now no study has attempted to capture the voices of those participating in such projects in the state of Odisha. Therefore, it is the aim of this article to fill the existing gap in the literature by investigating outcomes of a ICS clean energy programme in Odisha.

Improved Cook Stoves (ICSs) as an instrumental adaptation of clean energy technology has been suggested as an important factor for improving women's empowerment. The global focus on improved cook stoves (ICSs) and clean fuels has increased because of their potential for delivering triple dividends: household health, local environmental quality, and regional climate benefits (Lewis and Pattanayak 2012).Developed initially to address adverse health effects of in-door use of traditional chulha(traditional earthen coking stove) , the added benefit that ICS could contribute to gender empowerment has become a part of the clean energy discourse (Clancy et al. 2012; Clancy, Skutsch and Batchelor 2002;Cecelski 2004;Cecelski 2000). Due to their increased efficiency compared with traditional cook stoves, it was hypothesised that ICS would not only improve in house air environment, they would also primarily free women and girls from the drudgery of spending many hours collecting fuel wood, and reduce cooking time, which would allow women more time to engage in income generating activities. In addition, ICS implementation would benefit the local environment and global climate due to reductions in fuel wood harvesting and particulate emissions.

From feminist perspectives, the study of clean energy benefits focused attention on women's roles as families' primary cooks and food preparers, which led to a shift towards women as ICS programmes main targets. With focus on the implementation of ICS, the United Nations and individual developing countries around the world have invested billions of US dollars on ICS programmes, using a multitude of ICS designs and project constructions, alone or in partnership with NGOs to improve in-house air quality, i.e. reduce soot particles and curb C02 (carbon dioxide) emissions. Although decades of scientific studies attest to the benefits of ICS, in India and most other developing countries, the majority of programmes involving cook stoves have failed to thrive (Khandelwal et al 2017; Urmee and Gyamfi 2014).Given the theorised benefits of ICS, states seeking measures to both improve health and increase empowerment have been at a loss to understand why the majority of programmes have failed. A review of current literature suggests that failure or at best, the slow transition to modern energy services in some regions can in part, be attributed to and intertwined with a failure to address gender dimensions in ICS interventions (Khandelwal et al 2017; Cecelski 2000; Clancy et al 2002). For example, Lewis & Pattanayak (2012) observed that in the most energy poor regions, the division of responsibilities and power relationships within households were important factors influencing regional adoption of such services. On the other hand, theories of technology adoption suggest that household incomes and attitudes in combination with institutional factors such as information campaigns and supply chains determine household choice (Pattanayak and Pfaff 2009). While informative, these factors fail to capture the complex process of decision-making within households that culminate in families' failure to adopt ICS. These studies and others suggest the need for deeper examinations and analyses of intra-household bargaining and gender politics.

Recent researches examining household decision-making and ICS use revealed a number of legitimate reasons why families do not demand ICS. First, families may not recognize the benefits of using the ICS compared to traditional ways of cooking or they may recognize the benefits but cannot afford or are unwilling to finance the required investment (Mitchell 2010;Pattanayak and Pfaff 2009). In a systematic review of empirical ICS studies, Lewis and Pattanayak (2012) found that local customs, inferior cook stove construction, available fuel choices, poor distribution channels, ineffective financing, or insufficient social marketing were contributing factors (for the specific Indian case, see e.g. Khandelwal et al 2017). Other research has considered the benefits to families of retaining usage of traditional cook stoves. These studies have pointed out that cook and fuel efficiency of ICS cannot compensate for various added benefits of traditional cook stoves for rural households. For example, although smoke from traditional cook stoves increase the number of harmful particles in the air, it also helps keep undesirable insects such as cockroaches and mosquitoes under control. Furthermore, in rural areas, traditional cook stoves in combination with kerosene lamps provide a source of indoor lighting (Clancy et al. 2012). Efficient ICS do not fill this function and therefore potentially leads to added expenses for already poor families (Khandelwal et al. 2017).Criticism of ICS, while valid, tends to undervalue long-run benefits of improved cook stoves. Although it is not a panacea, research has clearly demonstrated how access to energy has the power to influence the lives of men and women and potentially contribute to gender empowerment (Cecelski 2004; Clancy et al. 2002).

From the specific Odisha perspective, perhaps the most comprehensive study of ICS was the Up in Smoke project conducted in 2005-2009 as a partnership between Gram Vikas and researchers from the Harvard Kennedy School, USA (Duflo et al. 2012). The aim of the project was to investigate the long-run health benefits of improved cooking stoves. A conclusion drawn in the Up in Smoke project was that the use of ICS declined under the life of the project, i.e. women and their families stop using the cook stove even before the project ended. Although the programme was strategically placed to investigate why the introduction of ICS failed to thrive, however due to programme design there were few opportunities for communication with local women. Instead, the focus of programme coordinators and experts emphasized the importance of establishing formal protocols to evaluate cookstoves' expected contributions to inside air environment and health issues. A failure to expand the study to include broader gender dimensions had consequences on the project's outcome. Clearly, without knowledge of how women understand and perform their roles as family cooks or garnering their knowledge concerning the appropriateness of the ICS from a food culture perspective, its design or how it fits into the household space, implementation projects such as Up in Smoke are less likely to succeed because no matter how imaginative and well-designed, health will not be improved if women do not use the ICS.

The vast literature on ICS implementation programmes points to two important issues contributing to programme outcomes, and here the Up in Smoke project was no exception. First development agendas are often set far away, with limited involvement of the groups they hope to benefit, and second, energy and health experts typically use experience-distanced quantitative surveys, often with pre-designed questions and limited ways of answering. In doing so, they become a dominant group that defines the appropriate way for rural, often poor and less well-educated women to express themselves (see e.g. Kammen 1995 and UNDP 2001).Consequently, by remaining focused on the project's overarching goals, experts may unintendedly muffle or completely exclude the voices and concerns of those affected, both women and men.

Objectives and Methodology

The aim of this article is not to moderate the concerns raised by researchers concerning the efficacy of ICS programmes, nor is it our intention to discount the value of quantitative methods. Instead, our ambition is to illustrate how an alternative methodological approach that includes the voices of people participating in ICS programmes can contribute new knowledge to the debate. In accordance with Srivastava et al. (2018), the article argues that even poor, marginalised women have knowledge and life experiences that can be harnessed to contribute to their own empowerment. To illustrate the potential of consulting women concerning issues of interest for them, the current study seeks to systematically analyse and describe women's experiences of participating in an ICS programme in rural Odisha. Questions of particular interest focus decisions to invest in ICS, and use of ICS in their daily lives. Has the adoption of ICS created new or changed opportunities and choices? Do women perceive that ICS has contributed to their empowerment?

We are inspired by Kabeer's articulation of women's empowerment in our data analyses. Kabeer's (1991) conceptualization focuses on the complex relationship between women and structural factors at all levels of society - individual, family and state that influence their access to and control of material resources. By conceptualizing empowerment as the process of changing, the way women see and experience their world; Kabeer recognizes the complex web of cultural, socio-economic and political relations in which women are embedded and argues that is through these processes that women become aware that change is possible (Kabeer 2001a). Thus, Kabeer (1991) defines empowerment as a process through which women who previously have been denied possibilities to affect their own strategic life choices, attain such possibilities. To operationalize the concept, three fundamental dimensions of empowerment are identified: resources, agency and achievement. The first dimension, in addition to material and financial assets, can also include such things as education, knowledge and social contact networks. Resources in this broader sense of being acquired through a multiplicity of social relationships conducted in the various institutional domains which make up the society (such as family, market, community), (Kabeer 1999: 437). According to Kabeer, resources are the pre-conditions for making choices. The second dimension, agency, can be described as the ability to define one's own goals and to be able to act upon them. It is about meaning, motivation and goals in relation to actions. Agency applies not only to decision-making, it can also be about negotiating, reflecting and resisting. The third dimension, achievement, is the possibility to achieve desirable and valued outcomes. This dimension can be understood as the product or sum of all processes along the journey to empowerment. It represents women's achievement of autonomy and more egalitarian gender roles acquired through the process of combining resources and agency. In sum, Kabeer's conceptualization of empowerment recognizes the temporality of empowerment. Moreover, that some processes towards empowerment may lead women to experiences of disempowerment, there are no guarantees that every process will lead to empowerment, but every process leads to learning and acquiring new knowledge. Consequently, processes that may lead to empowerment in some specific area for specific groups of women may not lead to the same empowering experiences for another group, and further, empowering experiences in one area of a woman's life do not automatically translate into greater capacity to exercise agency and transform power relations in another part of her life.

The data underpinning this article was collected in a self-funded project in Odisha where dissemination of ICSs was underway as a part of the implementation of Climate Credit Pilot Project (C2P2) (*) in which international partners working on climate change and renewable energy technologies supported the project across districts of Odisha. The aim of the clean energy programme was to measure the carbon emission level of each household and to gather knowledge of the daily pattern of ICS usage. The project targeted villages in four districts Mayurbhanj, Keuonjhar, Jagashigpur, and Nayagarh. Households participating in the C2P2 project were provided with solar energy technologies to ensure household energy security at household level with the help of multiple solar charging systems consisting of two light points, one mobile charging point and one Improved Cook Stove (ICS). In this construction, families purchased ICS with the assistance of micro-credit organised through a local Self-Help Group (SHG) and a local NGO-partner. The cost of each stove including the subsidy offered under the life of the clean energy project was approximately INR 2,700/-. Aside from an initial subsidy for purchasing an ICS, families participating in the project received additional compensation for saved C02emissionsat a rate of Rs. 100/- when they used the ICS for more than 90 hours per month under project duration. According to key informants, about 1,500 ICS were diffused in the total area of intervention during the data collection period. Repayments of the loan were made in instalments of INR 200-500 per month. Other options were available for women who did not belong to a SHG or who could draw on other resources, for example one beneficiary, a middle-aged woman, took credit from a bank to finance her purchase of an ICS. During the course of the project, women belonging to different SHGs purchased ICS, which led to the diffusion of the new cooking technology across villages.

Our data collection activities included semi-structured interviews, informal conversations, observations, and narratives collected from women belonging to Odisha tribal communities participating in the ICS programme. Although not discussed in this article, data was also collected from NGO consultants, local government representatives and other published secondary sources. The choice of "experience-near" data collection methods was made by a desire to encourage women to articulate their understandings of ICS, and to focus on gender dimensions that may not be apparent in quantitative studies (Kabeer 2001b). Finally, our methods supported efforts to explore women's subjective understanding of empowering benefits of ICS in their everyday life.

Discussion

ICS ownership as a source of empowerment in Mayurbhanj district of the total number of ICS disseminated in the area of intervention, about 610 women end-users were from the Mayurbhanj district and of these, about 300 end-users resided in the Thakurmunda block. In Mayurbhanj district, women members of various SHGs were the primary beneficiaries of the clean energy project. These women belonged to the lower economic strata and were predominantly from tribal or peasant communities. They were mainly occupied in subsistence agriculture and contributed additional resources to family livelihoods by making leaf-plates with Sal leaves, selling Non-timber Forest Products (NTFPs), brewing rice-beer or engaging in petty vending in the weekly haat (local market). In this district, all of the participants purchased ICS with the help of credit obtained from the bank through SHGs. About 80 percent of the buyers were women belonging to peasant communities as compared to male buyers who were primarily from the social category of Other Backward Class (OBCs) with better economic status compared to the women respondents. This simple descriptive statistic, points to the importance of women's membership in SHG's for accessing various forms of low-threshold micro-credit that affords women opportunities to obtain valued material resources in their own names. The clean energy project including subsidy and CO2 emission compensation in combination with SHG organisation and provision of micro-credit, facilitated ownership of the stove for women from low-economic status communities, this as compared to women from non-tribal/peasant communities who may gain access to the same resources, but only at the discretion of male members of the household. The findings are interesting from two perspectives. First, they are consistent with previous research which show that micro-credit can have positive impact on empowerment, but comes with a caveat that poorly initiated micro-credit can be a two-edged sword that can exacerbate poverty and gender inequality among rural women (see e.g. Garikipati, 2017; 2008). Secondly, ownership, although entailing responsibility to repay the loan, appears to have given women a sense of self-pride and control. In the following, we illustrate how access and ownership influenced women's opportunities and choices.

"I have been using the stove regularly though I haven't completely abandoned traditional chulha. I use the stove for cooking three meals per day and the estimated time of cooking has been reduced to approximately 2-3 hours in a day." (Respondent)

This short statement reveals that the respondent had a strategy for how she would comply with the clean energy project goals i.e., use the stove regularly for the minimum number of hours to retain access to the project subsidy. It is also clear that the respondent had not given up traditional chulhause. Time spent in preparing meals was also reduced. However, as the following statement reveals, it is not only time that was saved, there were also economic concerns as the ICS provided opportunities for household savings.

"Even though some women are having LPG connection, they prefer using ICS as refilling the LPG cylinder is a difficult task in this region. Households prefer to save on the consumption of LPG cylinder which is currently lasting for approximately 5-6 months per cylinder."(Key informant)

As in Mayurbhanj district, women in Nayagarh district continued to adopt ICS and new cooking technology. Women's ownership over ICS encouraged them to use the stove leading to sustainability of ICS use in households. There was also a firm commitment to fulfilling financial obligation of repaying the loan. According to the key informant:

"They (the women) also get a sense of ownership over ICS with regard to its use. One informant stated that she is regularly paying instalments as the household is saving money that they used to spend on LPG refilling or fuel wood. She wants to repay the loan before the term ends to enhance her credit worthiness, so that she can have access to credit in future". (Key informant)

From this statement, it can be argued that financial services received with the help of SHG and micro-finance institutions, has enriched the informant's capacity to acquire this new energy and in the process provided her with new opportunities.

Taken together, these statements suggest that ownership of valued resources fulfils the pre-condition for empowerment as they allow women to make strategic choices about things that concern them (Kabeer 1999). These choices and the precursors to them does not ignore the fact that women are members of households, nor do they deny the existence or strength of the cultural norms in which they are embedded. The study ignores neither the importance of household decision-making nor the gender imbalance and power inequities within households. Instead, our findings show that under certain conditions there is space for women to manoeuvre. Thus, even when women purchased and financed ICS stoves as individuals, these decisions were made only after consulting and discussing the issue with other family and household members. In this case, purchasing an ICS stove that men have little use for, would probably not be seen as a challenge to established gender hierarchies while for women the purchase represented ownership of a resource over which she had complete control.

Using ICS to negotiate new gender relations in Jagatsinghpur and Nayagarhdistricts:

The clean energy project was implemented in Jagatsinghpur district over an18-month period. In this district, results show that the use of ICS influenced the cost and pattern of fuel wood consumption. Our findings show that women using ICS stoves reduced the amount of time spent in preparing meals and snacks, thus freeing time for other tasks. Use of the stoves also contributed to a reduction in the amount of fuel wood needed during the month.

In Nayagarh district, respondents reported that since they have started cooking in the ICS, their fuel wood consumption has come down and now they are using on average one sack of fuel wood every three to four days. Some respondents reported a reduction of fuel wood use by up to 60 percent. This translates into a considerable monetary saving if the household had previously relied on purchased fuel wood and also a saving in time if collecting wood in the forest was arduous and time-consuming. In forest-dwelling communities, fuel wood collection is primarily a woman's responsibility; wherein women and girls walk long distances to collect both fuel wood and water. Relief from going to the forest for fuel collection was therefore an important incentive for women. The ICS can accommodate a variety of fuel and biomass including cow dung, tree bark, mango kernels and coconut flowers that could be collected from a variety of sources such as kitchen gardens, or agricultural fields, which contributed substantially to minimizing women's need to collect or purchase fuel wood. The use of the ICS allowed women to save time from fuel gathering, an added benefit, as illustrated by the comment below was that some respondents managed to negotiate a "new" division of labour around fuel collection.

"/.../earlier, drying and stocking of fuel wood used to consume a lot of time and we always felt space constraint for stocking large size fuel wood, now we do not face these problems as any available fuel in the vicinity could be used in improved cook stove". (Respondent)

"/.../now male members of our families are also engaged in collection, drying and stocking of fuel wood to be used for cooking/.../" (Respondent)

Although some male household members (Bapa mane) participated in collecting and preserving different kinds of biomass fuel available in the nearby surroundings, the study does not support significant changes in the household gender division of labour. For example, reduction in time needed to collect fuel wood did not reduce time needed to collect water. However, the results do offer a novel view of how given incentives, attitudes towards participating in certain gender coded activities can change. In this case, traditional women's work of collecting fuel wood in the forest is transformed into a gender-neutral task where both men and women can participate when the space for fuel collection is no longer gender coded specifically female. Since fuel could be collected in spaces not traditionally coded as female, men could comfortably participate in fuel gathering as the act did not pose any threat nor challenge male identity or masculinity. However, for those women able to negotiate these small changes, they were a valued source of relief from heavy, time-consuming work.

Conclusion

The field data collection described in this article was designed to gather information about experiences of women in rural Odisha regarding ICS intervention. In particular, these discussions focused on knowledge and experience of improved cook stoves, and women's subjective perceptions of the benefits to them of participating in the programme. Here we discuss our findings in relation to our research questions. We also reflect on the implications of our research for interventions to promote ICS, acknowledging that our data represents a small sample, not representative of the larger ICS programme context. On the bases of our discussions, observations, narratives, and interviews with women residing in the intervention areas, we are able to draw a few tentative conclusions.

There is considerable agreement that ownership of the ICS raised women's self-esteem. However, the choice to invest was dependent on four separate but equally important factors. First, that man did not perceive the investment as a threat, neither to their masculinity nor financially, and were therefore more likely to agree when women raised the issues in family discussions. Second, that the C2P2 project subsidized the price of the ICS package. Third, the possibility to join a SHG prepared to organize micro-finance at interest rates acceptable to women given their limited incomes and fourth, the C02 emission subsidy from C2P2 for using the cook stove that could be used as part of the loan repayment instalment. We also note that although women were not involved in the design of the stove, once the investment was made, they together with their families were committed and consciously involved in the sustainability of the project. Their positive experiences encouraged other women to embrace the project. Thus, we conclude that the pre-condition to empowerment, i.e. the possibility to own a desirable resource on terms satisfactory to them, was an important step in self-growth and well-being, not only for the women involved, but also served as examples for others not directly involved.

Fulfilling the pre-conditions started the process by providing women with agency. They could use their investment in the stove as they wished - they had choices. Keeping in mind that women were intent on retaining the [C0.sup.2] emissions subsidy, subject to household income, they could choose to substitute ICS for traditional Chulha or LPG depending on the occasion, time or food preferences. Moreover, the findings suggest that ownership and use of the ICS led to a modicum of drudgery reduction as some women managed to negotiate at least partial freedom from collecting wood fuels, as men were more likely to help when the activity was not specifically gender-coded female.

Finally, on the issue of empowerment, our tentative findings are less clear. Field data suggests that although ICS was instrumental in saving women time from cooking and food preparation, fuel wood collection and even some monetary savings on the purchase of fuel wood and LPG, we have little insight into how these savings were used; were women free to use their time and savings as they saw fit or were benefits subsumed under intra-household decision-making processes where gender norms give preferences to men. While we cannot be certain, we conclude that even small achievements are important to personal growth and self-esteem. On this issue, we can revert to Kabeer's argument of empowerment as a process. Becoming empowered in one area need not necessarily translate to empowerment in another, but neither should we underestimate experiences of small incremental changes as they serve as examples and encouragement to oneself and others. To evaluate whether women have achieved some modicum of empowerment at levels discussed in empowerment literature and whether C2P2 aims were sustained after the life of project, requires a return to the field to revisit the participants and conduct follow-up research.

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(*) Climate Credit Pilot Project (C2P2) is a multi-partnership project between TERI, UCSD, Nexleaf Analytics, sponsored by McQuown Foundation, USA to assess the household level [CO.sup.2] and Black Carbon emission due to inefficient cooking using traditional technology. The project was initiated across 5 districts of Odisha covering 4000 households during 2014-15. The project was implemented in partnership with local NGOs such as SGF (Keonjhar), RRDO (Mayurbhanj), Sahay (Nayagarh) and Nature's Club (Jagatsinghpur).
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Author:Dhal, Sunita; Srivastava, Nilima; Lane, Linda
Publication:Political Economy Journal of India
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Jan 1, 2019
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