Although development organizations agree that reliable access to energy and energy services — one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) — is likely to have profound and perhaps disproportionate impacts on women, few studies have directly empirically estimated the impact of energy access on women’s empowerment.
This is a result of both a relative dearth of energy access evaluations in general and a lack of clarity on how to quantify gender impacts of development projects.
Researchers from the School of Global Policy and Strategy at the University of California San Diego and the University of Arizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health evaluated the impacts of the Solar Market Garden — a distributed photovoltaic irrigation project — on the level and structure of women’s empowerment in Benin, West Africa. The study “Impact of a rural solar electrification project on the level and structure women’s empowerment” was published in the online journal Environmental Research Letters on September 11.
The investigators use a quasi-experimental design (matched-pair villages) to estimate changes in empowerment for project beneficiaries after one year of Solar Market Garden production relative to non-beneficiaries in both treatment and comparison villages (n = 771).
To create an empowerment metric, the researchers constructed a set of general questions based on existing theories of empowerment, and then used latent variable analysis to understand the underlying structure of empowerment locally. They repeated this analysis at follow-up to understand whether the structure of empowerment had changed over time, and then measured changes in both the levels and likelihood of empowerment over time.
The findings suggest that the Solar Market Garden significantly positively impacted women’s empowerment, particularly through the domain of economic independence. In addition to providing rigorous evidence for the impact of a rural renewable energy project on women’s empowerment, the study lays out a methodology that can be used in the future to benchmark the gender impacts of energy projects.