Empowering Women, Powering Nepal: How Women’s Inclusion Boosts Hydropower Development

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By Sanju Adhikari

Nepal is one of the richest countries in terms of water resources, with over 6,000 rivers and rivulets running across the country. The country’s advantageous feature lies in its steep topography, which provides ample opportunities for hydropower generation. Out of the total potential generation capacity of approximately 83,000 megawatts, about 42,000 megawatts are deemed economically viable. Hydropower plays a predominant role in Nepal’s electricity system and economy too.

The Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA), a state-owned company, had sole authority for the production, transmission, and distribution of electricity in Nepal before 1912. After the introduction of the Electricity Act 1992 and the Hydropower Policy 2001, the hydropower licences were distributed, and power purchase agreements were signed with private hydropower investors. After the entrance of the private sector into hydropower development, power generation activities significantly increased. As per the study undertaken by the World Bank in 2021, about 90 per cent of the total population has access to electricity in Nepal. This also indicates the space for achievement in making electricity accessible to everyone. The country has prioritised energy production as one of the most powerful sources of income-exporting power in neighbouring countries.

The total population of Nepal on Census Day (November 25, 2021) was 29,164,578. Of this, the male population was 14,253,551 (48.87 per cent) and that of females, 14,911,027 (51.13 per cent). The sex ratio was 95.59 males per 100 females. According to the detailed census report, the literacy rate of the population aged five years and older is 76.3 per cent: the male literacy rate was 83.6 per cent and female literacy was 69.4 per cent. Women’s involvement in economic opportunities is largely limited within domestic affairs, which are not accounted for in the gross domestic product calculation of a nation. The active participation of women in project design and its development process has been a critical issue. Women’s everyday lives are associated with the protection and use of natural resources. Since a large population of men has foreign employment opportunities, women are carrying the responsibilities of home, elders, children, and family occupations like farming, poultry, etc. Women’s participation and their engagement in hydropower projects are critical components for their successful completion.

The Hydropower Environment Assessment Manual 2018 ensures the acquisition of gender disintegration data during the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA). It focuses on including gender-related impacts such as employment, marginalisation, SES/SH, impacts due to the influx of migrant workers, crime, trafficking, and loss of livelihood opportunities. The Environment Protection Act 2076 and its Regulation 2077 have provisioned for public hearings and notification in national newspapers in the process of impact assessment. However, it is silent about inclusive participation and the mandatory presence of women’s participation in these consultations. In the case of projects financed by international financing institutions (IFIs), due to their mandatory policy for inclusive consultation, a certain number of developers are trying to reach the minimum figure required. Private developers and the NEA significantly ignore the participation of women and vulnerable communities in the promoted project.

The expansion of the electricity supply will result in considerable positive changes in the communities, both male and female. It can bring positive economic changes through better job opportunities, effective health services, and access to education. During hydropower infrastructure development, women can benefit from getting direct employment opportunities and operating small businesses. Job opportunities are created following the construction phase. This will drive positive changes in women and their everyday lives. However, women are deprived of the advantages of power generation, transmission, and distribution projects. The existing socio-cultural dynamics of communities and power relations in households have hindered women from participating actively in the planning and development of power generation projects.

Literacy is considered a major constraint that hinders women from participating in public meetings. Men are two steps ahead of women because they receive more exposure and opportunities in education and participation. Difficult topography is one of the key factors that creates obstacles for women in participating in consultations and decision-making. Due to the difficult topography, there is a tendency to organise consultation meetings in market centres and accessible locations. In the case of hydropower projects, such centres are generally far from project-affected communities. Public hearings and consultation meetings are generally conducted in market centres and other convenient locations. This has been a limitation for women and the least privileged to travel and attend such programmes.

Existing Social norms, household responsibilities, mobility, and social acceptances are considered other factors creating hindrances to women’s participation in public meetings. Women’s participation in community meetings is discouraged. Generally, men are considered household heads, and land titles are registered in their names. By virtue of being the household head, man is considered to be a powerful person in decision-making. Patriarchal social structure and household leadership have placed man as the supreme human in the family. So, he is free to make family decisions on his own for the disposal of family properties and resettlement compensations. Men come forward to participate in extra-household and community affairs. This hinders women’s participation in public functions. Considering the significance and two-fold impact on women and vulnerable populations in infrastructure development, the nation is getting late to prepare a policy that ensures women’s participation in hydropower development.

 

(The author is professionally a chartered accountant (CA) and writes on sustainable development.)

 

Source : The Rising  Nepal