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[NEW DELHI] The winning projects of this year's Ashden Awards for sustainable energy, which were announced last month (30 May), have particular benefits for women, organisers say.

The projects demonstrate how improved access to clean energy can make women's routine tasks less onerous, and provide women with better opportunities, according to Ashden's communications officer, Carla Jones.

The international gold award went to the Shri Kshethra Dharmasthala Rural Development Project (SKDRDP), in the southern Indian state of Karnataka. The charitable trust, established in 1982, has provided loans to thousands of families across the state.

The loans help families adopt renewable energies, such as solar, biogas and small-scale water-driven ('pico-hydro') plants. These systems help liberate women from the burden of gathering fuel, or having to earn money to pay for it, leaving them more time to spend on other activities.

SKDRDP beneficiaries also take part in local self-help groups, which meet to discuss and plan more effective household spending.

L. H. Manjunath, SKDRP's executive director, told SciDev.Net: "Our renewable energy initiatives are very much a part of our overall goals, which are to help provide the poor with a better living environment."

Other international awards included a joint award to the German development agency GIZ (the German Society for International Cooperation) and the engineering construction firm INTEGRATION, which have provided hydro-powered electricity plants to more than 7,000 households in rural Afghanistan.

David Hancock, programme director at GIZ, and his INTEGRATION counterpart Oliver Haas, said the project's first plants were built in 2008, for a community in Sanghab village in Badakhshan province, Afghanistan, where, at the time, men traditionally collected firewood while women mostly managed households.

Since then, they said, 70 per cent of Sanghab's households have reported improved health, and 17 per cent have reported rises in income.

Hancock and Haas said access to cheaper electricity had reduced pressures on both men and women.

"Women usually have a heavy daily workload. In winter, when days are even shorter, they often only have time for the most essential domestic duties. Activities with children, such as homework, were impossible," Hancock and Haas told SciDev.Net. "Energy provided them with more time."

They said the programme also "provides dedicated training for women to strengthen their role as 'energy managers'

Two more of this year's Ashden award winners also focused on bringing off-grid electricity to families with little or no access to mains electricity.

In Indonesia, the non-profit organisation IBEKA (the
People Centered Economic and Business Institute) has established more than 60 hydro-power units, benefiting 54,000 people, in a country where a third of the population does not have grid electricity.

The Australian non-profit organisation Barefoot Power was also recognised for providing solar-powered lights to around 1.7 million people across the world, who previously had limited or no access to mains electricity, thus providing families with more time for leisure and work in the evenings.

Link to video on SKDRDP project

Link to video on GIZ/INTEGRATION project in Afghanistan

Link to video on IBEKA project

Link to video on Barefoot Power solar light projects

Link to iDE/Hydrologic project