Very poor people are usually women, frequently ‘invisible’ to the outside world because of socio-cultural or religious reasons. Their voices are rarely heard because they are often illiterate and they lack the confidence and status to speak out within their own communities. If outsiders
reinforce this situation by ignoring women, and looking instead for expertise held by (usually better-educated) men, they risk missing out on some of the most important and relevant issues. One of these key issues is the availability of adequate, renewable, cheap and healthy energy

Identifying the right people

Listening and talking to the right people means that outsiders can understand and enhance the existing skills held by all those with knowledge of indigenous technologies, and technical aid can be more effectively targeted. It also means that a strong and equal relationship is created with local women and men.

A training manual has been developed for use by ITDG project staff with various partners in development (1). ITDG recognises that vulnerability can only be sustainably addressed by empowering, supporting and energising those who are most at risk. The training manual aims to help field and community workers to identify and listen to under-represented resource-poor people.

Stakeholder analysis

Primary stakeholders are those who have the most to lose, in development projects this is often poor women. Secondary stakeholders are outsiders who are affected, but who invariably have the greater power over the outcome. Conflicts of interest are often emphasised by gender;
costs, benefits and resources are rarely evenly distributed, even within the family. Using tools such as stakeholder analysis may indicate those areas of support in the field of energy which may be of value to poor women.

It is important that women’s energy needs are understood within the whole context of their lives. Their existing knowledge must be respected and used as a basis for developing the energy sector and the way in which it serves the poor.

Sustainable Livelihood Framework

One way to analyse existing energy use or to compare alternatives is through the Sustainable Livelihood Framework (2). This method begins by considering the strengths that even the poorest people possess. These previously ignored but valuable ‘assets’, include all the important
existing resources and initiatives already held by poor people, and which currently sustain them. Helen Appleton for example reported on the importance of women’s invisible technical abilities in ensuring household food security(3). The Framework can be used to highlight those aspects of their lives that make people vulnerable: shocks, trends and crises. These factors are not only environmental but also political, economic and, especially in the case of poor women, very often social.

Future plans

A further training manual, entitled Resource Poor Women and Information about Energy is currently being developed and will focus explicitly on the energy assets available to resource-poor women, and the vulnerabilities that they face. It aims to:
  • allow participants to explore the importance of their existing knowledge and the importance of energy resources in increasing security
  • consider the relevance of modern communication technology to them in their quest to be heard
  • allow them to test out reasonable ways in which they can retain control of the vital links through which they can communicate with decision makers.

As the training manual is distributed to partner organisations, an International Gender and Technology network is being set up to share experiences and monitor results. Any organisations interested should contact the author.


  1. The ‘Discovering Technologists’ manuals have been piloted in Kenya, Zimbabwe, Peru, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. An international compilation will be published by ITDG.
  2. Sustainable Livelihoods: Lessons from early experience’ Caroline Ashley and Diana Carney, DFID (1999).
  3. Sustainable Livelihoods Guidance Sheets’ DFID (1999)
  4. Appleton H. (ed) Do It Herself, women and technical innovation ITDG Publications 1995.
Last edited by Miriam Hansen .
Page last modified on Thursday August 12, 2010 13:46:16 GMT.
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