This thesis investigates into the effect of implementation environmentally healthy and community-driven solar electricity in rural Afghanistan, on women’s social and political role. The case study explores the Norwegian Church Aid’s project ‘Barefoot Approach’. The project targets women as beneficiaries, but also as community members with responsibility for maintaining the solar energy in their village through training as Barefoot Solar Engineers. By investigating women’s everyday life and relation to family, networks and community governance structures, this thesis maps out how solar energy implemented in rural Afghan homes can lead to empowerment and local political participation.
The light from solar energy has provided women and their families’ new livelihood opportunities, educational benefits and health benefits. In addition the project has increased women’s mobility within the villages and provided more time for empowering activities, such as socialising within extended family and galvanising women’s networks. Perhaps most interesting was how the solar energy impacted on the psychological well-being of women in relation to interaction with their family and husband. My informants stressed how the burden of housework was lessened and how TV, radio and indoor lighting developed time for leisure and conversation between family members.
Introduction of new energy sources has profound impact on societies and women in this case-study are slowly given space in community decision-making as the gender discourse and negotiation changes in rural communities. The composition of the Barefoot Approach’s gender perspective and the establishment of the new local governance structures; women’s shura, has transformed women’s political participation. Their political role has changed from being only informal and outside women’s traditional base of knowledge, to formal acknowledgement of women’s ability to provide services for their people, such as maintaining the solar energy equipment and in community decision-making regarding (women’s) social and developmental issues.
The women’s valuable skills when returning from BSE training sends a potent message to women beneficiaries and their communities about women’s abilities and the greatest change in the communities is that the gender discourse now is more actively performed by women in formal positions.