Biofuels and Women's Empowerment (REVISED VERSION: DECEMBER 2014): A comparative theoretical analysis of 8 biofuel projects in rural India and Sub-Saharan Africa

S.M. Verhoog (Photographer)

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Based upon a theoretical analysis of eight case studies in rural India and Sub-Saharan Africa, this research aims to test the hypothesis that the empowerment of women can be improved through women’s participation in small-scale biofuel projects. The hypothesis has been tested through the following formulated derived research questions: 1. Which conditions are needed to enhance empowerment? 2. Can the empowerment of women be improved through biofuel projects? 3. What are the (policy) actions required for gender responsive biofuels initiatives in the energy sector? This research shows that most of the activities of women in rural communities in developing India and Sub-Saharan Africa, concerning household energy (mainly for cooking and lighting purposes), are based on traditional biomass like fuelwood and dung. These activities are rarely income generating. The collection of traditional biomass fuels is often time-consuming. In combination with other household tasks like collecting water, child and elder care and preparing food, women have little time left to improve their socio-economic position through income generating activities. There is evidence that women in selected developing countries do participate in income generating activities, but these activities are often not very profitable due to the heavy physical burden of labour involved with the use of traditional biomass fuels. Transitional processes go rather slowly in rural areas. Modern fuels and energy sources like LPG, kerosene and electricity are unavailable in many rural areas, though they are more commonly used in rural India than in rural Sub-Saharan Africa. Biofuels like biogas and biodiesel are not commonly used in the reviewed developing countries. This research furthermore shows that gender, empowerment, access to energy and poverty are closely related. Energy poverty or very limited access to improved energy services is one of the main problems in developing countries. Theoretical analysis and practical experiences from case studies show that the empowerment of women in rural communities in India and Sub-Saharan Africa often improves when access to energy services and participation of women in income generating activities increases. One of the ways women can gain access to energy is through participation in sustainable biofuel projects. To get a better understanding of transitional processes and their barriers in developing countries, the ‘energy ladder’ and the ‘fuel choice factors; affordability, availability & accessibility and awareness’, could be useful instruments. The ‘energy ladder’ can be helpful in mapping and analyzing current fuel positions and the ‘fuel choice factors' can be helpful in identifying energy and/or gender gaps in order to enhance transitional processes in rural communities. The analysis of eight case studies in India and Sub-Saharan Africa shows that not only improvement of the empowerment of women has been seen, also alleviation of poverty and environmental benefits occur. A methodological analysis has been performed, based upon the information gathered from eight case studies. On the basis of three main indicators; empowerment, poverty and environment, a set of parameters has been developed. It appears that the empowerment of women can be improved through the participation of women in biofuel projects, with a higher change of success if the focus of the project is on women’s empowerment. Gender issues are closely related to access to energy and poverty; therefore it is recommended for governments to adopt gender sensitive policies in their energy and poverty policies. A lot of developing countries, specifically in Sub-Saharan Africa, are facing political instabilities due to corruption. This makes it more difficult in implementing policies. A lot of Sub-Saharan African countries already have drawn up Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers. However energy is often not incorporated in these plans. Most of the selected countries furthermore do not pay extra attention to specific gender issues in policy planning. Stable governance will improve the chances of successful gender implementation into energy and poverty policies.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationLeiden
PublisherAfrican Studies Centre Leiden
EditionBSc thesis
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2010


  • Biofuels
  • women
  • empowerment
  • India
  • Sub-Saharan Africa
  • gender responsive
  • alternative fuels
  • sustainable fuels
  • household energy
  • energy poverty
  • energy ladder
  • gender policy
  • agricultural modernization
  • gender gap
  • access to land
  • access to energy
  • Developing Countries
  • energy transition
  • case study research
  • Comparative analysis
  • environment
  • Entrepreneur


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