Solar powered electricity access: Implications for women’s empowerment in rural Kenya

This paper examines the gendered implications of various types of electricity access in rural Kenya spanning from the central grid to solar-based systems such as community projects, village scale supply and private solar home systems (SHS).

Drawing on material collected in Homa Bay and Kitui counties in 2016, the paper examines the gendered set-up, organisation and effects of solarpowered electricity access as compared with the central grid. The paper employs a framework for analysing women’s empowerment through electrification, which draws on Kabeer, Friedman as well as anthropology, socio-technical system theory and practice theory.

The results show that people tend to cherish solar-based solutions whereas the grid is perceived to be costly, unreliable and unavailable. As to the gendered organisation of supply, men dominate within the grid, mini-grids and private suppliers, leaving an important potential for women’s empowerment untapped. Two community projects included women’s ‘hands-on’ participation and spurred local discourses about women’s capabilities.

Access is also gendered on the user side. Because men tend to own the houses, have a higher income and a moral right to make major decisions, fixed connections and high subscription fees provide women with less agency than what is the case in decentralised systems of supply.