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MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Gender mainstreaming in renewable energy deployment in developing countries: A case study of southern Africa

In developing countries, energy poverty is greatly experienced in rural areas that lack infrastructure for electricity grid connections, thereby limiting production for economic growth and blunting efforts to escape poverty traps. Despite the efforts made to deploy decentralised renewable energy technologies (DRETs), huge energy access gaps still exist, and women, who make up most of the rural population, bear the brunt of energy poverty as the benefits derived from the deployed DRETs are skewed towards men. This research provides a gender lens to renewable energy deployment to inform the development of energy policy and project frameworks that create just and sustainable energy transitions in rural Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Malawi. A qualitative approach based on stakeholder interviews is employed to investigate energy access challenges in rural areas, the gendered impacts of energy poverty, and related policy actions reviewed in the literature. The Energy Cultures Framework is adopted for interview data analysis to highlight the interaction between rural households’ and project developers’ material cultures, norms, and practices that influence the adoption of energy technologies, as well as the participation of women and men in energy projects. To consolidate the Energy Cultures Framework, a systems approach-driven Causal Loop Diagram is developed to highlight causal relations and identify leverage points for gender mainstreaming in renewable energy deployment. The findings reveal that the energy policies across all three countries are gender-aware but do not actively address energy rights issues for women. More so, there is a selective bias towards male participants in energy projects’ training due to their comparatively high literacy levels. Based on these findings, the exclusion of women’s differentiated energy needs from energy policies and project frameworks is identified as the main factor behind the design of unsuitable DRETs that do not meet women’s needs. In addition, the causal loop analysis identifies Gender-responsive Policies and Targets, Gender Mainstreaming Training, and Women’s Education and Skills Training as key leverage points for ensuring equitable energy access and increased DRET adoption in rural areas. Policy and Regulation, Capacity Building, and Education are the highlighted areas of intervention for driving the identified leverage points. Therefore, the recommendations provided for energy policy and project frameworks are with reference to these areas of intervention. The dissertation concludes with suggestions for future research, including applying the Energy Cultures Framework at a national scale to investigate the impact of national governance norms and policy practices on rural energy access.


Course Overview


The need to engage in better problem definition through careful dialogue with all stakeholder groups and a proper recognition of context.


An ability to work with specialists from other disciplines and professional groups acknowledging that technical innovation and business skills also must be understood, nurtured and combined as precursors to the successful implementation of sustainable solutions.


An understanding of mechanisms for managing change in organisations so future engineers are equipped to play a leadership role.


An awareness of a range of assessment frameworks, sustainability metrics and methodologies such as Life Cycle Analysis, Systems Dynamics, Multi-Criteria Decision making and Impact Assessment.