Electrification and Socio-Economic Empowerment of Women in India.

AuthorSedai, Ashish Kumar

    Following the major electricity reforms in 2003 (Thakur et al., 2005), the focus of the discourse on electrification and welfare in India has been on counting electrified households, and investigating the impact of electricity access on households and farm income, labor market and entrepreneurial outcomes (Rao, 2013; Chakravorty et al., 2014; Dinkelman, 2011; Samad and Zhang, 2019). Complimenting the policy impetus, studies have shown that increased access to electricity has effectively empowered women and increased their labor force participation (Samad and Zhang, 2019; Rathi and Vermaak, 2018). However, recent studies have shown stagnancy, redistribution and only marginal improvements in quality of electricity (households electricity hours) on a typical day (1) (Sedai et al., 2020; Aklin et al., 2016). Given that some households gained access, while some lost the quality of grid electricity during the wave of mass electrification (Sedai et al., 2020), an empirical analysis on the effect of quality of electricity on women's empowerment is a significant policy question. Our study contributes to the literature by analysing the effect of the quality of electricity on women's empowerment, following a framework of access, agency and achievements laid down by Kabeer (1999).

    Connecting households to grid electricity is not the silver bullet for energy poverty and gender based energy disparity if connections do not entail regularity in the service provided, which has been an issue due to the frequent power failure and the poor grid capacity in India (Joseph, 2010; Sedai et al., 2020). In September 2017, the government announced a new scheme, 'Saubhagya', that offers free or heavily subsidized electricity connections to rural households. This scheme reduces the cost of electricity connections, but it does not offer solutions to the problem of low-quality electricity service (Kennedy et al., 2019). Although attempts have been made in improving the quality of electrification in India through the Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana (DDUGJY, 2014), many relatively poorer states (Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Bihar and Orissa), on average, have less than half a day of electricity in the household (Sedai et al., 2020). In recent years, the political economy of electrification in India has intensified with electricity being considered in the core basket of necessities requiring public investments, while electricity distribution at the going subsidized rate remains a major loss generating activity (Burgess et al., 2020).

    Quality of electrification disproportionately affects women in developing economies, as they spend more time in the household than men (Dinkelman, 2011; O'Dell et al., 2014). Various household activities (such as cooking and cleaning among others) are primarily undertaken by women in India, and elsewhere in developing economies (Ferrant and Thim, 2019). Many of these activities can be performed more efficiently and be less time consuming if the household has electricity all day long, such that time allocations to labor, leisure and home production are more favorable. Fuel and water collection activities, along with the compulsion to stay at home when the electricity is available in the day to perform household activities cripples women's ability to minimize time in home production and maximize time in labor market or entrepreneurial activity (2) (Ferrant and Thim, 2019; Rathi and Vermaak, 2018; Dinkelman, 2011; Gould and Urpelainen, 2018). Gender disparities emanating from the lack of reliable electrification calls for an understanding of the potential benefits of electricity reliability in reducing gender differences, and improving the economic condition at the aggregate level (Samad and Zhang, 2019; Khandker et al., 2014; Rao, 2013; O'Dell et al., 2014).

    Our study examines the effects of additional hours of electricity outage, and the non-linear effects on women's empowerment using population weighted quartiles of electricity hours in a day. We analyze the causal effects of electricity deficiency on empowerment outcomes, and discuss the underlying causes through the analysis of the labor market, time allocations and respite effects of reliable electrification. Empowerment indices are derived from the novel framework of women empowerment in terms of 'access, agency and achievements' laid down by Kabeer (1999) and in defining women's autonomy. Following this framework, we create five empowerment indices using a wide variety of observed indicators: (i) economic freedom in terms of regular cash flows, ownership of property, and employment, (ii) economic decision making in terms of major purchases of the household and wedding expenditure, (iii) mobility in terms of visiting health center, friends/relatives, grocery store and short distance travelling alone, (iv) agency in terms of health and reproductive decision making along with membership in social organizations, and (v) household decision making such as of child marriage, fertility, food and account ownership.

    We use the India Human Development Survey (IHDS) 2012, as it is the only nationally representative gender dis-aggregated primary survey which has information on both electricity hours and gender relations. We use (i) Ordinary Least Squares (OLS) and (ii) Two Stage Least Squares instrumental variable (2SLS-IV-FE) regressions to derive robust and causal estimates. The instrument used is 'average hours of household electricity in a day at the district level, excluding the district of the household' (3) (Bai et al., 2019). We use Principal Component Analysis (PCA) of nineteen empowerment variables to create five indices (4) and regress them on outages, with the least outage category, 0-4 hours in a day as the base quartile. We conduct our analysis with and without individual and household controls, district and caste controls, and instruments along with different ways of measuring empowerment to arrive at robust estimates.

    The study finds significant negative effects of power outages on all indices of women's empowerment, with stronger effects on educated women belonging to middle income households compared to poor and less educated, especially in rural areas. Outages significantly reduce women's mobility and economic decision making compared to other indices. The quartile analysis shows the existence of non-linear relationship between additional hours of electricity and empowerment indices signifying the incremental effects as per the margins of deficiency. Outages significantly reduce women's likelihood of employment, work hours and days, increases fuel and water collection time, and increases the use of inefficient/unhealthy household services and utilities which have a bearing women's bargaining power, and consequently, on their empowerment.

    1.1 Reliable electrification and pathways to empowerment

    Previous research has shown that reliable electrification empowers women in a myriad ways through economic and non-economic channels (Dinkelman, 2011; Rao, 2013; Khandker et al., 2014; Chakravorty et al., 2014; Rathi and Vermaak, 2018; Dang and La, 2019). The labor supply channel of empowerment through the re-allocation of time from unpaid household work to paid work with better electrification (increases the marginal cost of paid work), increases paid work participation, and consequently, relative income share of the woman in the household (Dinkelman, 2011; Rathi and Vermaak, 2018). Active labor market participation allows women to exercise their agency in economic and social decisions of the family (Kennedy et al., 2019).

    The study on benefits of rural electrification in South Africa showed that women's employment rate grew by 9.5 percent because of the 'Eskom' project, a community electrification program (Dinkelman, 2011). Rathi and Vermaak (2018) examined gender differences through electrification in India and South Africa and found that the policy impetus on electrification increased women's likelihood of work, earnings and reduced the hours of work through increased productivity, with stronger for women compared to that of men. Reliability of electricity in addition to labor market improvements also increases the use of more efficient household services, which provides a respite from the ardous process of home production (Ferrant and Thim, 2019). Dinkelman (2011) found that electrification in South Africa from 1996-2001 reduced the likelihood of cooking with firewood, increased the likelihood of having a flush toilet and indoor water, and reduced the expenditure on fuel-wood.

    Continuous power supply extends the effective workday by allowing women to leave certain household chores for the night enabling them to participate in paid labor activity during the day (Kanagawa and Nakata, 2008). In case of erratic power supply, these benefits may fail to materialize. The gap in demand or supply in South Africa lead to sub-optimal time allocation to labor market activities (Dinkelman, 2011). The study by Standal and Winther (2016) in West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand finds that electricity affects everyday life in terms of providing important resources and enhancing women's opportunities to perform their role as care workers more efficiently and in a qualitatively better way.

    In rural India, women often spend a considerable amount of time daily in collecting firewood for cooking, which is highly polluting, more ardous, and adversely affects health (5) . Firewood has lower calorific value which necessitates prolonged cooking hours, enhancing the exposure to hazardous emissions. Although the use of Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG) has been widely discussed as the alternative to clean cooking, the principal constraint to widespread adoption has been the fuel cost (Gould and Urpelainen, 2018), poor infrastructure, especially in rural areas (Allcott et al., 2016), coupled with weak bargaining power of...

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