IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - Fall 2013 - 52

management, and the importance
of drawing on this knowledge,
as an integral part of renewable
energy development. However,
indigenous women, who hold
much of this traditional knowledge, continue to experience gender discrimination compounded by
the added marginalization endured
by indigenous peoples, including
their lack of access to traditional
lands [12].
The importance of making use
of women's traditional knowledge
was evident during research with
rural women in Bangladesh, some
of whom complained that the
improved cookstoves they were
given were not well designed. The
fire and heat were not distributed
across the entire base of the pot -
a necessary attribute for the slow
cooking of rice in the preparation
of alocal rice porridge. Most of
the improved cookstove technology in the country is designed and
built by men, who have little or no
knowledge of heating techniques,
in relation to food preparation (see
Fig. 3).
Admittedly cookstoves and
other domestic appliances signify
traditional gender roles in relation
to who uses and operates them in
the home. Nevertheless, the aboveexample shows that women not
only need to be able to access technology, they also need to be drawn
into and become an integral part
of the very process of how and for
whom the technology is designed,
developed, and used. As Wajcman
argues, "Drawing more women
into design ... is not only an equal
employment opportunity issue,
but is also crucially about how the
world we live in is shaped, and for
whom" [13, p.151].
"Barefoot Women Solar
Engineer"
Case studies also show that where
rural poor women are given the
opportunity and provided with
the appropriate training they have
proven themselves capable of
52

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Fig. 3. All the designers of improved cookstoves who met with the author
were male.

designing, assembling, and operating renewable energy technologies.
The example of Barefoot College in
India is well documented. The college uses innovative techniques to
train poor rural women who have
low levels of literacy, in solar energy
technology. Poor women from
Asia, Africa, and Latin America
have been trained in the assembly,
operation, and maintenance of solar
photovoltaic home systems and
solar lanterns. These women are
known as "barefoot women solar
engineers."
In Bhutan 35 women with low
levels of literacy were trained and
were subsequently responsible
for electrifying 46 villages in 13
districts with renewable energy

technologies. The project has
demonstrated that the transfer of
a certain level and type of technical skill can be accomplished
without high levels of education
among rural poor women [14].
Overall the project is considered
to be an example of good practice
in grassroots community-based
approaches, enabling the participation of poor women and in the
design, development, and implementation of energy systems and
projects. Examples such as this
challenge not only gender roles,
but also class divides, as rural poor
women took personal risks and
even made heroic efforts to take
hold of opportunities to become
empowered.

IEEE TECHNOLOGY AND SOCIETY MAGAZINE

|

FALL 2013



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