28 February 2013 | EN
Agencies should back small-scale technologies that can benefit women
Flickr/United Nations Development Programme
Small-scale technology can help women to raise their status and increase their income and education, says Henrietta Miers.
Western development agencies' lukewarm attitude to the role technology can play in poverty reduction does not serve women well. NGOs like Practical Action specialise in community-owned technology that is small-scale, labour-saving and cost-effective and often most benefits poor women. More support for such technology projects could transform women's lives.
Practical Action is not alone. The electrification of remote villages in the north of Pakistan, introduced by another NGO, the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP), shows how three simple ingredients — running water, community organisation and some technical know-how — can help women.
The district of Chitral and the Northern Areas of Pakistan lie where the Karakoram, the Himalaya and the Hindu Kush mountain ranges meet. When AKRSP first arrived in this isolated area in the 1980s, it found villages scattered up mountainsides with erratic or no connection to the national grid, and local people demanding electricity. Until then, light came from pinewood torches and expensive kerosene lights.
AKRSP introduced micro-hydroelectric technology using water from the region's fast-flowing rivers to generate energy. In Chitral alone, 209 'micro-hydel' systems had been established by 2012, bringing electricity to more than half of the population. Villagers themselves build and maintain the systems.
Community ownership is central to making this technology work. Village organisations, in which women are active, contribute towards installation costs and decide on connection fees, energy charges and subsidies for the poorest households. Some committees charge more for electricity-hungry appliances such as washing machines, and restrict their use in the evenings when lights and televisions are on to prevent system overload.
For women, gone is the drudgery of time-consuming household chores such as washing clothes and churning butter by hand. Eye and respiratory diseases from kerosene and pinewood torches have declined, especially among women who spend much of their time at home. Electric light enables women to spend more time turning the local wool, shu, into products that form their largest source of income. Television — for example through the Allam Iqbal Open University, in Pakistan — has opened up education for women where a strict culture of purdah (the practice of concealing women from men) confines them to their village boundary. 
NGOs such as Practical Action and AKRSP show that small-scale technology can benefit women in a number of ways.
Henrietta Miers has worked across Africa and Asia as a gender and social development consultant for 15 years, specialising in gender policy. She is senior associate of WISE Development, a consulting company that focuses on boosting the economic opportunities for poor women.
 Ummar, F. and Khan. A.S. Electrification Benefits Women in Chitral, Pakistan (ENERGIA News, 2006)
Dr S S Dash ( India )
6 March 2013
Very true. Small-Scale Technology can benefit women in a very big way and in the long run it can contribute to the overall quality of life in most of the developing countries. What is needed is a commitment by the Decision Makers and the Decision takers.
Nicola Harford ( iMedia Associates | United Kingdom )
7 March 2013
Really interesting and timely piece Henrietta. As the development world coalesces around maternal health and stopping child marriage and GBV, the fact is that using technology to reduce the burden of household chores on women and girls and to expand educational and economic opportunities would almost certainly contribute to achieving these other goals. And its particularly heartening to hear about progress in Chitral...over 20 years since I was teaching there and involved with gender programmes at AKRSP, and the first micro-hydels were being installed.
Profesor Colibrí ( Autonomous Benito Juarez University of Oaxaca | Mexico )
8 March 2013
More power & emPOWERment to you & your efforts! Here in Oaxaca, Mexico we've focused our efforts on communal gardens & integrated ecological measures. It's a struggle to put together BRIGADES of university students & get time, permission & funds to go to isolated villages, but a SERIES of visits can TRANSFORM lives!
Chiko ( Malawi )
8 March 2013
It is indeed true that most of the technologies have not adequately addressed the needs of women on the ground. And hence there is need to focus on those that can add value to changing the well-being of women. Commenting on what Dr Dash has said, I just want to underscore that the commitment by the decision makers should translate into Gender Responsive Budgeting initiatives and not only lip service commitment. I feel these commitments differ as other decision makers would just say oh yeah we do gender mainstreaming without necessarily committing the financial resources.
100 Under $100 ( www.globalwomenstechcatalog.com | United States of America )
18 April 2013
I am writing a book about simple tech and practices which can help women work more productively and escape extreme poverty - www.womensglobaltoolkit.com - welcome your input!
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