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Empowered by electricity? The political economy of gender and energy in rural Naryn

Elena Kim, Karina Standal

This article examines if and how access to electricity has contributed to women’s empowerment in the broader context of the political economy of gender and energy in rural Naryn, Kyrgyzstan. Earlier literature has pointed to how electricity provided through development interventions has facilitated a range of desirable services, conditional for children’s education, communication technologies and economic growth. Access to electricity has been linked to gender equality and women’s empowerment via providing women new opportunities for agency and income. The context of this article is rural Kyrgyzstan where electricity has been available since the 1970s as a service delivered by the centralized Soviet state. This study provides important insights into how this has affected local development and gender relations in a post-socialist country. It reveals the complexity of energy access and challenges the assumptions that access to modern energy such as electricity will lead to fulfillment of SDG#7 on affordable and clean energy, or increased economic activity and abandonment of traditional energy use. The findings demonstrate that electricity provides an important resource for communication, income generation and household chores. However, the lack of reliability and affordability of electricity in rural areas in the larger context of post-Soviet transitional challenges and changing gender norms, has undermined women’s potential empowerment and has worked to maintain gender inequalities.

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